The FIFA football world cup remains the greatest show on the planet. Last Sunday’s incredible final proving it beyond doubt. It is clearly the most popular sport on the planet but the eventual winners Argentina turned out to be the most popular team for neutrals across the world. Lionel Messi’s genius and the fact that the world title had eluded him thus far has been the cause for almost the whole world outside of France rooting for his team. Whilst Messi has brought much joy to Indian football fans the young and old alike, Indians’ love for Argentina precedes Messi. Indians got to witness world class football for the first time during the 1986 world cup as televisions made their way into Indian households in the early triggered by the Delhi Asiad and then accelerated by India’s cricket world cup win in 1983. So, Indians’ love for Argentina was born out of the magic of Maradona. But as this article highlights there was another hero connecting Indian football fans and Argentina – Che Guevara. India’s two football crazy regions of Kerala and Bengal have been communist strongholds for long periods.

“MB Rajesh, a Kerala minister, told the Guardian his heart “carries the blue and white stripes”.
“That country and its football team symbolises the irresistible urge of humanity to liberate themselves from oppression,’ said Rajesh. “I relate to their fights with justice and survival.”

The football obsession in Indian states such as Kerala and West Bengal dates hundreds of years, to the times of British colonial rule when it was played among soldiers. Though it has never qualified for a World Cup, India is home to some of the oldest football clubs in the world.

In Kerala, India’s most leftwing state which has been ruled by a socialist government for decades, the widespread love of Argentina’s national team was partly credited to the revolutionary legacy of the Latin American country, which has fierce support in the Indian state.

“Argentina is the land of Messi and Che Guevara. Whether it wins or not in the final, I will continue to be a diehard fan,” said TM Thomas Issac, an economist and member of Kerala’s ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Ahead of Sunday’s final, the state has descended into a blue-and-white frenzy, and public screenings, where thousands will attend, are being arranged by fans and local authorities.”

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