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Documentary

QPR and the Mumbai Challenge try to wake a ‘Sleeping Giant’ (2012)

Sleeping Giant (2012)

Sleeping Giant sat in my Amazon watchlist for 2-3 years, and now I’m quite sorry I so neglected this documentary. Director Daniel Glynn follows two U14 boys from South Mumbai, who are selected via a tournament to receive 6 weeks of football training at QPR.

I didn’t realize this documentary came from Ad Hoc Films, the clever minds behind The Four Year Plan, the 2011 fly on the wall accounting of the dysfunctional board room inside QPR. That Sleeping Giant was still completed the following year shows that the Mumbai Challenge must be a passion project of the wealthy Amit Bhatia, then vice-chair and now current chairman of QPR.

About the tournament

The inaugural South Mumbai Junior Soccer Challenge tournament was held in Dec-2009, as a football initiative of then South Mumbai MP Milind Deora. QPR was a sponsor and the tournament was managed by Saran Sports. The tournament reached its 10th year in Dec-2019, sending 5 players to QPR for training. It appears that the United Way has held a similarly named event for younger children as a “Level Playing Field” initiative not associated with QPR.

The story

Half the film’s story is about the state of football in India. Cricket has such a hold on the hearts and minds of Indians that soccer in 2010 is portrayed as a poor step-sister (and it still is in 2020). Pundits and authorities express opinions that sound much like in the USA; they question why India’s large population does not produce world class players. India has footballing history, but the interviewees point to lack of infrastructure and failure of the Indian federation.

As in the USA, football in 2010 is more common in middle class schools that have proper facilities, but likewise football is hindered because parents value education over sports. The pundits believe that it is the economically disadvantaged who have the most incentive to change their status through sports. But those same children don’t have fields. Creating football fields is tough to solve, but at least a grass roots event like the Mumbai Challenge brings visibility and mounts a starting point.

The players

The other half of the film is about the 2 players, how they do at QPR, and quite a bit on how they are perceived by youth development manager Steve Gallen and his coaching staff. Gallen, who is now Director of Football for Charlton Athletic, knows that the boys from Mumbai will not match up with English lads in speed or physical ability. But factors such as personality, confidence, calling for the ball, and speed of thought can weigh in.

Given that confidence is so important, I thought it was a bit strange that the boys were made to practice with the U18s but play games with U15s. Given the players’ attributes, if you know anything about the game, you wouldn’t expect these two to get a contract at QPR. Still, at the players’ 6 week reviews, you can feel the sadness as one boy, Hussain, realizes he must leave the football oasis and return to Mumbai where the training and the opposition will pale in comparison.

At the end of the documentary, the filmmakers catch up with the boys 2 years later. I also researched the players and found that they continued to play for at least a few more years, so hopefully the QPR experience remained a good one.

In conclusion

Judging by the number of soccer movies coming out of India, I believe that In the 10 years since the Mumbai Challenge started, football culture in India has progressed and increased in popularity. Some of the reasons cited are the growth in cell phone use, the success of the ISL Indian Super League, the hosting of youth FIFA World Cups, and the increase in Bollywood celebrities who purchase or promote football teams.

Even though this documentary took place over 10 years ago, it is still very relevant. If India could qualify for WC 2026, it will definitely be a Sleeping Giant no more.

I’m looking forward to the upcoming Ad Hoc Films soccer movie on ManUnited with Eric Cantona!

7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7

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