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Archaeology of Underground Football in Bangladesh

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Like most of the kids in the early 90s, I also grew up playing cricket with older lads in a huge field, beside my house. The existence of another sport, named football, came into my knowledge for the very first time, during the FIFA World Cup 1994. Until class 3, I only played cricket and on very rare occasions, watched football. One fine day in class 4, our sports teacher gave us a news that the French International School of Dhaka (EFID) have invited us to play a friendly football match against them in their field next weekend. I was disheartened over the fact that it wasn’t a cricket match. Most of us, at that time, barely touched a football in their life; let alone ever tried playing a proper match. Our sports teacher somehow picked a team from the students who played cricket, could run fast and could shoot hard. We practiced only for a week in the ground floor of our school with a ball, following two simple instructions: put the ball into the net to score a goal and play only with your feet. I was confirmed that this has to be the easiest game ever and we were all ready to go. I clearly remember it was a bright sunny Friday morning; all of a sudden the sun seemed to fade away into the dark clouds as we fell to a heavy defeat of 8-3.

And, that was exactly how I was welcomed by football, the beautiful game. It indeed is.

”On that very day, I realized that football is the game I wanted to play all the time.”

On that very day, I realized that football is the game I wanted to play all the time. Nothing made me happier than a football on my feet; I found my true love (one of very few). All of a sudden, I became a regular viewer of football; and my cricket kits were rotting in one corner of my garage. Since then, I started playing football on a regular basis; in the school field (before assembly, during break time, in sports classes and after school on weekdays) and in Sector:3 field (Friend’s Club) in Uttara (early morning and afternoon on weekends). As I moved to the senior building in class 7, I got into the school team to play friendly matches and inter-school football tournaments inside and outside my school premises. During the winter vacation, my friends and I used to play football every day from 6am to 10am in the morning and thus we decided to build a team to play the intra-school football tournament (Principle’s Cup) in the following year.

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Source: Daily Star

I got myself introduced to Underground Football during the winter break in 2005 through a senior friend, who used to play with us in the morning at Friend’s Club. One day he came up to us and said that there will be 11-a side football tournament coming weekend in COD field. We thought for a moment about it and then decided to give it a go. We were a team of nine people, so we picked six more players from the people who used to play with us to make a proper 11-a side squad. My debut to underground football tournament was an overwhelming experience. As I stepped on to the COD field, I felt like as I was in some sort of a festival with known faces all around me, most of the players were known to me as I have already played against them during inter-school football tournaments. It was a huge gathering of football lovers who came from all around the Dhaka city to meet at one point where they can play and enjoy football together. I instantly got hooked into the environment, the atmosphere.

”Back when it all started, the term “Underground Football” was still unborn.”

Back when it all started, the term “Underground Football” was still unborn. The whole concept was developed in the year 2005, by some university students, who were football fans looking to play regular football. One of the founder members is a friend of mine, Majed Ul Huq. The idea was to borrow a field, where the organizing committee can run a football tournament for the football lovers who cannot participate in the professional level. The teams need to get registered by paying a certain fee and the finalists end up going home with cash, trophies and medals. Sometime in 2006, the term “Underground Football’ went viral and was on the tip of the lips of every football lovers. The name do have some significance because it was an event for the amateur football players mainly from university and school levels, the professionals or “khaep” players were not allowed to participate here and it was not supervised by the Bangladesh Football Federation (BFF). Instead, it was more of privately organized tournaments, mostly from personal expense and sponsors on rare occasions, by few enthusiastic individuals. BFF never bothered to take a good look at this huge startup, neither have they tried to help this grow in a better way.

”I have seen the growth and the peak of Underground Football, where the focus was more on the beauty of the game over money. ”

I have seen the growth and the peak of Underground Football, where the focus was more on the beauty of the game over money. Tournaments were held every other week, but they were organized by a similar group of people; maintaining a high standard level. 7-a side and 9-a side were the most common ones, with 11-a side once in a while. The quality of football played were very high, better than the professional football in Bangladesh, only thing we lacked were strength and stamina, due to zero training facilities. It provided a real solid platform for the players to showcase their talents at a different level, allowed players from different schools or universities to play together in the same team; leading to the formation of very strong bonds of friendship. Being a football player myself, I was lucky enough to be able to play for and against some great players and great teams; there are no shortages of talents here in Bangladesh.

I was born in such a generation, where every parent would want their children to play cricket. Bangladesh cricket was developing significantly and even the government was cutting expenses from other sports; to invest more on cricket. That led to younger generation to pursue cricket as a career over other sports, as there are no future elsewhere. Still, we were brave enough to continue playing football and kept on proving that, given the chance, we will shine as well. But, as always, we were always ignored by everyone else. Now, I am seeing the declining stage of Underground Football. It had such a rapid growth that, the maturity came on early. If there were proper regulations and guidelines, with a governing body; Underground Football would still have the same vibe, as it had when it started off. As we move on with time, the number of tournaments increased rapidly, leading to 2-3 tournaments a week. As a result, the quality of these tournaments dropped significantly due to new organizing faces; who are more interested in doing a business through these tournaments. The number of 11-a side or 9-a side tournament has decreased due to the time it needs to complete; leading to increase number of 7-a side or 5-a side tournament which can be done in a single day. The recent popularity of futsal (5-a side street football) has also played a major role in the decline of Underground Football. Players of this generation are more comfortable in doing tricks and skills and thus they prefer indoor football tournaments; neglecting the real football in a grassy field. This decline was inevitable, but it could have been slowed down; if BFF put some interest in there. BFF could easily use it as a source to scout potential youth talents for the future national football team of Bangladesh.

Sigh! But, still now, proper Underground Football tournaments do take place once in a while and I always look forward to participate in there; I can never get bored of this beautiful game.

Md. Omar Mostafiz is from The Aga Khan School, Dhaka, he did his O' Levels and A' Levels from there. He did his Undergraduate program from North South University with a double major in Marketing and Human Resource Management. He did his internship in bKash Limited and currently working in Alcatel Lucent Bangladesh. He loves to play football and a big supporter of Manchester United Football Club. He is adventurous and always look to explore different areas of Bangladesh. He is a foodie and loves try out new places to eat. He listens to music as well, he carries his ipod with him whenever he is out. During his free time, he either watches movies/series, or read books, or sketch/paint.

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