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It’s happening very fast. People have gone crazy for a ticket to watch football match in Guwahati. As if it is a flash back of the Bordoloi Trophy matches when the galleries of Nehru Stadium used to be full, till cricket gripped the mindset of sports buffs of Assam and some parts of North-east. Those days, anybody wearing a leather jacket in the streets of Guwahati was thought to be a Shillongite. And it was true. People went in hordes, although the Shillong-Guwahati journey was much time-taking and arduous then, to watch a football match in Guwahati, the heart of North-east. Monday’s Indian Super League (ISL) match between NE United FC and Chennai Blasters reminded about those days. The galleries were nearly full, but more than the empty spaces there were people outside begging for tickets. Some afforded to buy the cheapest Rs-100 ticket for Rs 1,000 from black marketeers, and the rest had to satisfy themselves by watching the high-voltage tie in television sets in restaurants outside the stadium.

The future of football in North-east lies in the agony (with due sympathy to them) of those who have missed the bus on October 13. The ISL organisers might not have thought of getting such tremendous response in the North-east, often ignored in mainland India. NE United FC co-owner John Abraham admitted that the crowd at Saru Sajai in Guwahati was better, although not bigger than Salt Lake Stadium that hosted the inaugural ISL match between Atletico de Kolkata and Mumbai City. The plus point for football in the North-east is that the game still has an edge over cricket in terms of popularity in the region. For most parts of the hill states, cricket is still an unfamiliar term. Cars flaunting banners of famous European clubs like Real Madrid and Barcelona FC are a common sight on the streets of these hilly states.

Money has a big role to play in the sudden surge of footballs fans for the match in Guwahati. The sponsors including Reliance poured in crores for publicity and also for development of the ground, which was not up to the mark till a month ago. Money brings more money and the sponsors are not likely to repent their bet on football this time. No number of government agencies, in association with dozens of politically-biased sports associations, could have done such wonders in many years. The future looks bright for a game which needs least number of gadgets and yet caters to public health in a big way.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on October 17, 2014)

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