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The need to build a football culture

Derrick Pereira

The origins of the word ‘culture’ may not be clear to everybody. It’s derived from the Latin ‘cultura’ meaning ‘the tilling of land, act of preparing the earth for crops’. In short, it is the act of building a grassroots movement, the art of laying foundations from the ground up.

We, at footballing institutions and establishments, should then end up asking ourselves: Why not build a football culture, something that is interminable and sets the template for generations to follow and emulate?

More often than not, it is the will and intent that gets in the way than the scale of the task at hand. The propagation of a footballing culture has been achieved before, and certainly can be done so again. It is also important that we keep at it; otherwise we may find ourselves out of tune with the changing nature of communication and outreach.

But first, for those uninitiated, what is footballing culture? It is the children playing football before and after school, in the streets, fields and anywhere else that they deem fit to play. It is the same children going to school and animatedly discussing the events of games played in neighbourhood grounds. It is very easy to state that the Premier League and other European leagues have taken away the sheen from local tournaments, but then it is important to remember that there are nations that follow the PL and their own leagues with equal passion.

Culture is also introducing the game at the youngest ages, making sure infants and toddlers fall in love with the game and its defining principles. A tiny fraction of those that start below six make it to the top divisions, yet those that do commence their journey in football early, have a tendency to get enamoured by it – they become coaches, administrators, referees and in most cases, they become and remain fans.

Those that remain connected to the game gain a lot out of it – teamwork, respect, critical thinking, decision making and fitness. These tenets go a long way in shaping a person’s career, whether on or off the football field.

There are regions in India that have successfully done this. Goa was a state where football ruled the roost once; the GPL games used to be followed passionately and Goan footballers were the toast of the land. Spectators would fill stadia to watch Dempo, Salgaocar, Sporting, Vasco, Churchill Brothers battle it out among themselves.

West Bengal sees massive turnouts even to this day for the Calcutta Football League games. The Mizo Premier League has slowly become one of the best leagues in India, with attractive football being backed by passionate
crowds.

As we remain acutely aware of the shrinking nature of village tournaments and other informal football in Goa, a possible solution that emerged was to provide more game-time at a younger age and the Little Gaurs League was born. Conducted by the Forca Goa Foundation, this will see children of three age groups – Under-6, Under-8 and Under-10 battle it out this year. There’s also the introduction of the Under-12 girls league, an absolute necessity given the need to increase participation by girls at an earlier age.

Last year, we were pleasantly surprised by the turn-out. Thirty-six teams participated across the North and South zones over the course of five months, during which 280 matches were played over 14 game weeks.

We often forget that aside from the kids, parents remain the most important stakeholders. They need to be convinced about investing in 12-14 years of football education and the accompanying benefits. Most world-class players were introduced to the game by their guardians at home, leading to the ‘Football Starts at Home’ school of thought.

From a footballing perspective, games at that age of varying intensities and difficulties help in identifying players and nurturing them. We need to adhere to the rule of thumb of guaranteeing our kids 400 games by the age of 15. The younger we start, the easier it will be for all of us to build a culture. As Thomas Wolfe once said: “Culture is the arts elevated to a set of beliefs”.

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