Yesterday I happened to be once more London and remembered this day ten years ago in exactly this city. And I happened to speak about this anecdote at the Business India Forum at Christie's yesterday. Exactly 10 years ago to this very day India played its first historic match back in England after 52 long years. The last time India had been in London was in 1948 for the Olympics. We played at Craven Cottage against Fulham FC on a nice, sunny afternoon. We did lose 0-2 through two goals from German 1990 World Cup winner Karl-Heinz Riedle against a superior Fulham, who weren't then the established Premier League team as they now are, but rather an aspiring Division 1 (now Championship) club, who did gain promotion at the end of that season.
Fulham had Frenchmen Jean Tigana as their coach. The match against India was his first game in charge. And ageing stars like John Collins (Scotland), Karl-Heinz Riedle (Germany) and Bjarne Goldbaek (Denmark) plus the young Lois Boa Morte (Portugal) and Louis Saha (France), who didn't play, to name a few players. So a quality opponent and India did hold its ground as especially keeper Virender Singh had a good day under the bar plus Deepak Kumar Mondal and Mahesh Gawli in central defence.
But besides the game I especially remember the "Indian discussions" post match in the Fulham hospitality area, which was a better pub in those days.
It was the day when the late Noel da Lima Leitao came in, shouted at chief coach Sukhvinder Singh about his team selections and said, "why didn't you bring on Khalid Jamil earlier on? He would have been more effective today."
That was the passionate Noel da Lima Leitao. Not only supporting Vasco and Goan football, but also a big fan and supporter of Team India like all of us around.
The discussions followed about this with manager P.K. Banerjee, special advisor Chuni Goswami, commentators Novy Kapadia and Peter Hutton, captain Baichung Bhutia, myself and some others chipping in with their thoughts. We had the feeling and even more hope that day, a new era was to start and we were all lucky to have been there.
We all hoped this tour would be the start of a new era for Indian football. Baichung was at FC Bury, maybe other clubs would now look at Indian players and the National Football League would develop into a competitive, professional league.
10 years on I sadly have to say that we are somewhat back at the same stage, but hopefully this time around we will utilise the chances that come our way to develop Indian football.
Fulham: Maik Taylor, Steve Finnan, Andy Melville, Chris Coleman, Rufus Brevett (Wayne Collins, 70), Kevin Betsy (Bjarne Goldbaek, 78), Sean Davis, Lee Clark, John Collins, Karl Heinz Riedle, Lois Boa Morte (Luke Cornwall, 65).
India: Virender Singh, Prabhjot Singh, Mahesh Gawli, Roberto Fernandes, Daljit Singh, Jo Paul Ancheri (Khalid Jamil, 88), Basudeb Mondal (Hardeep Sangha, 46), Jules Alberto (Hardeep Saini, 46), Renedy Singh, I.M. Vijayan, Bhaichung Bhutia [CAPTAIN].