In December 2018, India football captain Sunil Chhetri made an emotional appeal on Twitter to the Indian football fans to fill up the stadium after a match against Chinese Taipei at Intercontinental Cup 2018 in Mumbai. In the next match, the fans thronged the stadium, and Mumbai saw a full house. India football matches started seeing an influx of more fans at the stadiums from then onwards. But with coronavirus pandemic starting an era of no-fans sporting events, there is a possibility that the Indian Super League and I-League season this year could also have a few games amid closed doors.
India forward Robin Singh, who was bought by Hyderabad FC in the 2019-20 season of ISL, and was later loaned off to I-League club Real Kashmir, believes that football will be hard for players without the presence of fans.
“Football is a spectator sport. It’s going to be hard but if it protects the rest of the community – not just the footballing community, but everyone else in the country, then you have to do that,” he says in an exclusive chat with Hindustan Times.
“Yes, we miss them. But I am sure, soon enough, we will be back with a full stadium. It just makes everyone happy to see their home fans supporting them and making noise every time you score goals,” he adds.
Robin, who stays with his wife in Goa, says that he missed playing football with his friends during the lockdown. Unlike the football in Europe, the months of April-August is the off-season for Indian football. Robin, who usually spends his off-season with his friends kicking the ball, had to find other avenues to keep himself busy during the lockdown imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I picked up yoga, and those kinds of things. It’s been ups and downs, but I’d rather be safe and I hope everyone is safe as well,” he says. He even tried helping out in the kitchen. “I tried cooking, I got thrown out of the kitchen,” he laughs.
The 30-year-old also spent his time cycling around, as the area in which he stays was declared under the green zone. He also watched the documentary Trial By Media and even learnt a new skill. “We also watch a lot of home decor, DIYs, I am a very hands-on person so that I can learn a new skill. I have been learning carpentry to build new things. So, hopefully, I can build something soon,” he says.
With several athletes finding different ways of staying fit and also contributing to the fight against the coronavirus, Robin also found a way to do both, as he is associated with Adidas’ Home Team Heroes Challenge – in which the sporting company is donating 1 USD for everyone who trains using their application for an hour. “We will try and contribute up to 1 million USD. This initiative helps me to work out and play a part a role in the cause. At the same time, it is also a show of gratitude to everyone in the country who has been a part of this fight,” he says.
Despite keeping himself busy all this while, Robin just cannot wait to return to the football ground and hopes that the season restarts at the scheduled time this year. “I am still that kid who just loves playing football with friends. It breaks my heart I could not do that. But we have to look at the larger picture. The pre-season training begins in about a couple of months for Indian football fraternity and we are doing our bit to ensure that it does resume when it is supposed to resume,” he says.
The Bundesliga season started earlier this month, and as per the new rules, the goal-scorers were celebrating clapping and dancing – while maintaining a safe social distance. Robin is hopeful that by the time the India football season starts, the situation improves so that he can celebrate goals with his teammates.
“Two months is a lot and not a lot of time for the medical industry to come up with the vaccines. When you score goals, it’s a happy moment, because it’s a moment to celebrate with your teammates. Goals make your team win. I hope that the situation improves so that we can adapt and celebrate goals like we always have,” he says.
There have also been discussions starting on reducing the contact in various sports including football. Robin, who enjoys the physical nature of football, hopes that the pandemic gets over before contact is restricted in football tackles. “I never want football to be a non-contact sport. My whole love with the sport came because of how physical, intense and raw the sport is. It gives me an adrenaline rush. I’d always want football to be a physical support,” he says.
“We have to keep our fingers crossed. The coronavirus has not only affected the sporting community, but also everyone across the world. We got to make sure to fight it together,” he signs off.