Evolution of Football in Mumbai for Motherland magazine by Kaamna Patel
Evolution of Football in Mumbai for Motherland magazine by Kaamna Patel
Evolution of Football in Mumbai for Motherland magazine by Kaamna Patel
Evolution of Football in Mumbai for Motherland magazine by Kaamna Patel
Evolution of Football in Mumbai for Motherland magazine by Kaamna Patel
Evolution of Football in Mumbai for Motherland magazine by Kaamna Patel
For Motherland magazine,
Text by Rahul Nadkarni

 I am fourteen years old. It’s Sunday morning and I am walking across the marshland left behind by the ebb tide; a mucky white and red panelled football in one hand and an IV needle in the other. I trace the outline of its winged valve with the tip of my thumb. The sandbank that works as our four-a-side pitch is behind me and I am now sinking to my shins in heaps of black sediment that cover the seabed like scabs. Between the scant vegetation are tangled ropes of polythene, dead littoral fish, bloated bits of cardboard and shapeless figures of detritus congealed mysteriously by the currents. I am walking to Hinduja Hospital’s emergency room. It only strikes me now that the building was made in the likeness of a cross. An hour earlier, while running onto a ball played through, I felt a sharp prick underfoot. My first thought was that I had tread on glass, but it turned out to be this little piece of medical waste I now hold in my hand. As I walk through the hospital doors, a wave of dread is rising up inside me. I wash my feet and sit by the sea-facing window of the treatment room, awaiting the arrival of the senior doctor. Outside, the sandbank gleams gold in the sunlight. A kite swoops down, grabs something in her talons. 

Over the course of the following decade, the sandbank is slowly disappearing with most of the beach, leaving for a brief period, its quick-footed four-a-side duels in limbo. The games are migrating deeper into the city; futilely combing its asymmetrical hollows and spaces for the sandbank’s image. Like water taking it’s vessel’s shape, the game itself is evolving to adapt a system of play that works around make shift goal posts, diagonal concrete pitches, restrictions on noise, moving traffic and an array of other urban hurdles and intrusions. This pattern of evolution is echoed in our lack of traditional 11 a side game sense. The first time I step onto a regulation pitch is in the group stage of an official inter school tournament. 
At this point, all we have to practice on in is a stony rectangular plot of red mud; not only much shorter in length but also only about half the size in width. Two rot-eaten, zebra striped hockey goalposts stand forlornly at either end of the field. On match day, our play is narrow and predictable. When we do manage to spread it wide, our wingers make tame attempts to work a ball into the box. Crosses float in harmlessly like clearances. With each toothless attack, the distance between us is yawning bigger and bigger. By some small miracle, we draw the game and eventually make it to the knockouts.
Today, Mumbai’s ever changing landscape is going through another tectonic shift. The gradual disappearance of its natural spaces is being counter weighted by the arrival of enclosed artificial turf arenas. While the city dances its haphazard way through the choked streets, some of the last remaining commercial spaces like building terraces and vacant plots of mill land are being used to build these little oases of the sport. The pristine turf is a far cry from the decrepit and at times hazardous playing surfaces we grew up on. In tandem with televised football’s burgeoning appeal, inch by inch, the sport seems to be gathering momentum and heading towards its long overdue crest. The vagabond games of previous years and their ageing patrons are breaking with the cloying stasis of city life and finding their feet again. In the floodlit, nocturnal match ups, the old dreams of a fast disappearing adolescence are glowing with life; vying once again for the little rewards of amateur cup wins and the near misses of defeat.
At 10 p.m., I am standing on the terrace of the IMAX building. My phone shudders and pings inside my bag. I open up the neon whatsapp window and read that the remaining players are in the parking lot and will be up here in 2 minutes. A light rain is falling and for a moment, the lit turf almost looks like dew-covered grass. The players of the previous game are leaving in a broken, snaking line; passing the ball between them as they do. I get onto the pitch and jog from end to end, in step with the metronomic advance of the digital clock. The rain is falling harder now, buffeting the turf and obscuring most of the cityscape. Through the sheet of grey, only factory chimneys are visible in the far distance, ablaze with chemical fires.