Many myths were shattered at the 124th Durand football tournament. For decades, organisers in the capital had clung to the belief that if Mohammedan Sporting participate, their committed supporters from the nearby walled city area will throng to the Ambedkar Stadium.
The myth of Mohammedan Sporting as the biggest crowd pulling team in India was eradicated. They played two matches in Group IV of the quarter-final league but the main stands were empty.
For over a decade Mohammedan Sporting have underperformed and so their faithful fans are getting frustrated and are staying away. Those who came were also in the middle age-group.
As there are no iconic Muslim footballers in India any more, the youth of the walled city have shifted their allegiance from football to cricket, where Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel have a large fan following.
The Old Delhi crowds that packed the stadium and cheered for Habib and Akbar, Nayeem and Yusuf Khan when Mohammedan Sporting or Hyderabad City Police played years ago is now a thing of the past. This year the crowd pulling teams were Shillong Lajong Football Club and United Sikkim.
The large North-east population in the capital ensured that teams from their region had ample support.
If the Durand Cup has to prosper in its 125th edition in 2012 more teams from the North-east region like Royal Wahingdoh (Meghalaya) must be invited. North-eastern club teams must be put in different groups to ensure more crowd-pulling matches.
Another myth was that fans would come to watch India’s champion team Salgaocar (Goa).
But crowds were sparse when Salgaocar played even in their crucial Group 1 match on a Sunday against Prayag United.
Historical factors lead to fan following in India and not performance.
The Durand tournament confirmed an established fact that without the presence of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, no tournament in India can be a success. Teams from Goa may be winning trophies but they are not crowd pullers.
Entry this year was free for all matches, still the crowds stayed away. In the early 1980s, the expenses of the tournament was about `8 lakh (before introduction of prize money in 1987).
The expenditure was recovered from gate money, title sponsorship and hoardings.
Even though tickets were priced at 2, 3, 4 and 8 for the preliminary stage and 15, 10, 7 and 5 for later stages, revenue from the ticket sales was about 4 lakhs.
The 2011 Durand tournament cost about 1.5 crores (winning team getting 20 lakhs). With no title sponsor, it will struggle to survive unless it re-invents itself.