Delhi’s Football Doldrums - What happened to football in India’s capital city?

It took me about twenty minutes before I could find the small, one-room apartment at Shankar Market in central Delhi - the house indistinguishable from the numerous commercial establishments that abound there. After pulling the steel gate open, I walked up the stairs hesitantly until my eyes found framed newspaper clippings of exploits on the stage and the football field. Assured that I was in the right place, I walked into the neatly furnished chamber.

There he was, Aziz Qureshi – once a star for Delhi’s elite City Club football team – poring over a newspaper. As I settled down, my eyes caught his library on the right. It was well-stocked with motivational and self-help guides.

Qureshi still has lush black hair that betrays his age - well into the 70s - and his facility for talking has stayed with him too. Once the conversation begins, you realise he has done more than a few interviews. Almost as if he is offering a sermon, Qureshi shuts his eyes and repeats all that he knows about Delhi football. He never forgets to mention the unexpected rewards which came his way.

“Once as I crossed Delite cinema, a man stopped me,” remembers Qureshi. “He was very happy with a recent performance of mine in a victory for the club, so he handed me a buffalo. His wish was that I would drink fresh milk and also take care of the animal.”

Such anecdotes emanate aplenty when we mine the recesses of football in Delhi. But as I foraged the older parts of the capital for its lost football stories, it was worth asking: what was actually lost? Was it worth holding on to or was it a phase in time best left behind? The story of football’s decline in Delhi is part of the city’s many histories. The questions we ask today about this city are relevant to the conversations we have about football. It is often said that football in not part of Delhi’s culture. But which culture? And whose culture?

About the Writer

Priyansh is a freelance writer based in New Delhi. He generally writes on the intersection of sport, politics and culture. His writings are frequently published in The Wire, Firstpost and Sportstar, among other places.@GarrulousBoy