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Indian footy - the 2008 International Cup, Croatian connection and Vegemite Vindaloo

  • Thursday, January 18 2007 @ 06:57 am ACDT
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Footy in India has been in the limelight of late, with Brian Dixon’s world tour including a stopover in that country. Some of his achievements were detailed in Dixon rebooting footy in India, and WFN was recently lucky enough to have caught up with Brian to have a chat about his trip. We also investigated two lesser known football links in the world’s second largest country - an Indian player who embraced the game in Europe, and a popular novel exploring Indian-Australian links, with Aussie Rules an interesting feature.

Dixon on AFL India

For those that aren’t aware, Brian Dixon played football for Melbourne in the 1950s and 60s. He was All-Australian selected in 1961, part of Melbourne’s Team of the Century and a member of numerous premiership-winning sides. He also had a short coaching stint at North Melbourne in 1971 and 1972. He went on to become a Victorian MP and the State’s Sports Minister. He is also one of the people behind the Life. Be in it. campaign.

From a global football perspective, Brian has been behind the scenes in many of the countries now boasting leagues – from England and Papua New Guinea to South Africa. Arguably, one of international football’s defining moments (at least in its infant years), was the painting, Dare to Dream. It shows Kevin Sheedy, Ron Barassi, Grant Thomas and Brian Dixon looking on from packed stands at the MCG, as the South African national squad takes the field against Australia in a football match. His presence in the painting gives some idea of the regard he is held in by the football community.

So far in India, Brian has helped set up an AFL India body, comprised of about 40 members. At their helm is Mr. Saha, head of Kolkata’s Kabaddi program (Kolkata was until recently also known as Calcultta). Kabaddi is a popular sport throughout Southeast Asia and alike football, has elements similar to numerous other sports all intertwined in the one game. It is unique in being a sport in which offence is an individual effort whereas defence is a group effort. From an outsider’s perspective, Kabaddi is most commonly likened to a game of tag.

Brian stressed the importance of having football (at least in its developing stages) aligned with a sport that is firmly rooted in that society’s culture. This can lead to shared resources, athletes and training programs and methods. It is not dissimilar to the relationships formed between Gaelic and Australian Rules clubs throughout the world. Nor is it hard to understand, in Kolkata alone, Kabaddi has some 80,000 registered participants.

His ultimate aim is have a solid junior program established, which will in turn, equate to capable and experienced senior footballers. Brian would also like to see the sport played in a few of the nearby universities, but conceded this might be easier to achieve once the sport’s initial framework has been set up.

He is also hopeful of seeing an Indian side compete at the 3rd International Cup, to be held in 2008 and coinciding with football’s 150th anniversary. Whilst none of the juniors would be ready to compete for their country (at this level) by that time, they would at least have ready-made athletes to fill the void until the juniors worked their way through the ranks, a further advantage of football’s ties with Kabaddi in India.

Brian is hoping to return to India in early to mid-2007 to build on the foundations he has helped lay.

Indian embraces game in Europe

Unrelated to the above story, but still on the topic of India; during their 2006 season, the Zagreb Giants (now Hawks), had an Indian player on their roster. Born in Agra, home of the impressive Taj Mahal, and raised in Delhi, Sunil Bhatt (pictured) was in Croatia as a teacher of the Hindi language at the University of Zagreb.

He was introduced to football by a friend and former cricket team-mate, David Smith. Asked about his opinion of football, he said it was appealing as it not only kept him fit (requiring more running than cricket), but broadened his social circle. For those disheartened by continuing rule-changes, Sunil found the game quite easy to pick-up and the smaller challenges, such as kicking and bouncing, no more difficult than the problems faced in any other sport. The shape of the ball was also a novelty, “It is actually very difficult to kick the ball straight because of its shape. The shape itself makes the game more interesting because it is not possible to predict where the ball will go once it bounces.”

WFN spoke to Sunil prior to Brian Dixon announcing his world tour. With AFL India no more than a dream at this time, and being unaware of its attempted predecessor, the IAAFA, we quizzed him on whether he thought football had a future in his homeland. “Cricket is played in winters in India. The summers in India are very hot. But footy can make its mark independent of cricket.” He was also keen to continue his footy career upon his return to India.

Vegemite Vindaloo

The final football-related mention of India is almost as peculiar as the previous one. Kolkata-born journalist and photographer David McMahon recently released his first novel, Vegemite Vindaloo.

The book looks at the social divide between rich and poor in India and the cultural differences between Indian and Australian society. The book touches on everything from Indian railway stations, to servants, to the Australian outback and Australian Rules football. The latter plays a surprisingly significant role in the book.

Whilst Vegemite Vindaloo has so far only been released in the subcontinent, it can be purchased online and hopefully it will hit our shores shortly. In the meantime, take a look at David’s blog and find out a little more about him and his many talents.

It seems that football might finally be making its mark in India.