Published: 06th June 2018
Why Sunil Chhetri's video message is something every young footballer needed to hear
The young footballers in Chennai talk about how disappointing it is to play for empty stadiums but why the impact of Chhetri's video gives them hope
Four days ago, Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri uploaded a video on social media pleading to a country full of fanatic cricket fans to go and watch a football match. In the video, he said - "Encourage us, watch us, abuse us, criticise us, talk about the game, go back home and have discussions, make banners but please get involved. This is a very important time and juncture in Indian football and football in India needs you guys. So here am requesting you - come and support us, in Mumbai and wherever we play."
The stadiums were beaming with people at the next match - Chhetri scored two goals and India beat Kenya by five goals! It was absolutely beautiful to see the team get so moved by the crowd, an overwhelmed Chhetri said that if crowds like that turned up at all matches the team wouldn't even mind giving up their lives playing on the pitch.
The Indian captain's video on social media-
Lots of young people who are aspiring to be players themselves were also moved by the events that unfolded on June 5. Not having anyone to cheer you in the stands is always disappointing for the players, "Football is not like cricket, people spend so much money on that sport but no one really cares about football. I wish people would just walk into the Nehru stadium, just watching the game would make them fall in love with it," said 18-year-old Sangeetha Sekhar, she is the captain of the street child women's football team.
"After I started playing, my friends and family started watching football and slowly realised that football is such an interesting and exciting game," she says. Sangeetha recently came back from a tournament in Moscow where she scored three goals, "It was an international match so we can't obviously expect too many Indian fans but even at home we never have anyone to clap for us, we always look back at an empty stadium. We still play with all our hearts and souls but it would just motivate us so much more if we had people fill up the seats," she said.
Empty seats: The street child girl's team at Moscow last month
Kanna Doss, another promising footballer player from Chennai pointed a fact that Chhetri made in his video as well, that Indians are so enthusiastic about international football and clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United but couldn't care less about Indian football. "With ISL, there are more Indians who have gotten interested in Indian football but that is mostly because it has so many International players, not because of the Indian players," he said.
"It's heartbreaking because we play for our country, not anyone else", says M Habib, an 18-year-old trying to make it into the big leagues,"Chhetri is among the top five players in the entire world but nobody even knows this. I wish the government would step in and take some steps to popularise the game, maybe even try to make the tickets cheaper so more people will come into our stadiums," he said.
A short but heartrending video resulted in a stadium full of people, let's hope the trend continues. At least for the sake of our future footballers!