Saturday, December 31, 2011

Have a start, got to score…

End of the year is always a time for stock taking. What we achieved in the year; Where we failed; How much could have been done and How much is left.
But it's also a time to think, what we could do more. As a year ends, another one begins. That's the beauty of time. That's the beauty of sport. After every year, another one has to follow. After every match, despite failures, another is always in waiting. Life goes on.
But some years leave their mark. Some delible, some indelible. Nepali sport saw a few of those. Both of the popular team sport, Football and Cricket, saw changes. Both sport got new coaches, foreign bred, tested. Graham Roberts in Football and Pubudu Dassanayake in Cricket. Both aggressive in their own styles. Both deserving respect because of their past deeds. And if initial performances – especially the mindset of players – are anything to go by, both look capable enough to take their respective teams to another level.
Coaches come and go. Their contribution is judged with performance of their team, as long as they stay. But one thing that has long term effect on the sport is its infrastructure. And that, thankfully, is likely to change with the beginning of football's National League.
All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) could not have chosen a better time for the league, as it falls, right at the end of one year and start of another. This could be the best transition in football that we have seen yet. It has been long that centralized structure of football has been criticized in Nepal and rightly so. The game's structure has hardly given much to the players from out of the valley to ply their trade. Since the leagues, for years, have been played only among clubs of the capital, it has made the players from countryside toil harder to make the cut. Likewise, the fan base of the game has also dwindled. This has been seen several times in Dashrath stadium, which has had to host close to hundred matches a year. Apart from matches where some big clubs play, spectators have refused to come to the stadium. One visit to Dharan, where Budha Subba Gold Cup is held, and Pokhara, where Sahara Cup is held, is good enough to show you how much football is loved outside capital. The fan base is there, and unless they see their teams playing at the biggest stage possible at the national level, European football will take them away from Nepali football.
Although ANFA hails it as the first ever National League, football pundits would remember that such similar tourneys were held in 1998 and 1999. In these two editions, four clubs from mofussil played with the biggest clubs in Nepal. Valley Sporting from Pokhara and Munal Club from Jhapa had participated in 1998. In 1999, The Boys Group from Dharan and another club from Rupandehi participated in 1999. The Police Club took the title on both occasions, but if you ask players from these four clubs about the best experience they've had on football field, they'd tell you these tourneys meant a lot for them. They played with who's who of Nepali football, and after the matches, they came back richer in experience, skill and temperament. Everyone associated with the sport will tell you, there's nothing like playing at the highest level. No matter how much drills you have, it's nothing compared to match practice.
Mitra Milan Club of Dharan and Sangam from Pokhara have the potential to change the game forever in Nepal. If they play hard, which football lovers would want them to, they might register a strong case in favor of matches being played out of Kathmandu more often. There could be a strong case of having home and away matches right now, but at least this is a start.
This would be a very good opportunity for football fans in Pokhara and Butwal to enjoy nation's best footballers showcasing their skills. It should, but doesn't happen very often in Nepal. So fans, as the New Year begins, go to the stadia not only to enjoy matches, but to make sure you put up a strong case that there are venues outside capital for football in Nepal.
The league is being organized outside the valley, since capital's venues are being readied for AFC Challenge Cup. Hopefully, ANFA organizes more such tourneys outside, even when the stadia in the capital are in good shape.
If that happens, we know for sure, Nepali sport will be happy in the coming years.

(This post, unlike other posts on Sports by yours truly, did not appear in anywhere and is exclusive on Verma's Perspective)
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