The inaugural Indian Super League (ISL) started amid concerns and doubts—the few bad games at the start also made many question the quality of football. An overwhelming majority were dismissive saying what worked for cricket—on the lines of IPL—will be a disaster in football. But on Saturday night, which ended in a blaze of confetti, fire crackers and delighted Atletico de Kolkata fans celebrating, much of the skepticism had been buried. With over 55,000 people attending the first league game in Kolkata on October 12 and an equally impressive crowd at the finals in Mumbai, it has emerged as a sport that has captured the imagination of Indian fans.
With celebrity owners, corporate backers and international stars mentoring local talent, the ISL was a new start for Indian football. It has brought about a monumental change in the country’s sporting culture and holds promise that football in India will never be the same again. Football had largely become a “sofa sport” in India—fans sitting at home watching and debating about European leagues rather than going out to watch Indian players. ISL managed to turn these couch potatoes into stadium goers and this was clear from the average attendance of the tournament being the fourth highest of all leagues in the world. The league also recorded over 16 million online video views through the course of the tournament. The official ISL online channel registered 28.7 million visits.
Besides making football popular again, the most important thing ISL did was to make young footballers see the sport as a viable career. This is expected to increase the pool of players and raise the quality of the national team. Next year, hopefully, a lot of minor irritants will be done away with but the prospect of the league enticing younger marquee players, and better foreign players, remains exciting. Never has Indian football felt so good.