Football fever begins to grip cricket-crazy India as World Cup nears

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Jalandhar, June 8 : Raj Kumar sat at his roadside repair shop in Jalandhar on Friday, the sound of pneumatic drills and passing cars and motorbikes threatening to drown out the traditionally Punjabi Bhangra music playing over the radio as he stitched up one of several footballs that were strewn over his wooden table.

Kumar has been faced with a recent uptick in business as local children take up the sport ahead of the upcoming FIFA World Cup, bringing their footballs to Kumar’s shop for a quick and affordable fix-up, reports Efe.

The surge in business has not come as a surprise to the repair man, who says he has been in the job for 45 years.

Kumar told epa that the children of Jalandhar tend to adopt whichever sport gets the most attention on television.

During much of the year in this cricket-obsessed nation, that means repairing cricket bats and pads.

With the World Cup due to start next week in Russia, however, Kumar has been landed with a pile of deflated and beaten up footballs, many of which look beyond salvage, and which litter his shop’s store cupboard.

Kumar says he has been repairing around 50 footballs per month as the tournament approaches. He charges Rs 50 ($0.75) to stitch up a damaged football, while the fare to repair the inside bladder would cost his clients Rs 90.

Much of the sports equipment that comes through his repair shop is manufactured locally; Jalandhar is home to a dominant sports goods market.

The city even has a traffic intersection named as “Football Chowk” located next to a market at which mostly sports goods are sold. A concrete sculpture of a hand with a football on it is located near the traffic intersection of “Football Chowk.”

Jalandhar’s sports industry is one of the biggest manufacturing hub in India with around 100 sports goods manufacturing units in the city.

At one such unit, workers for Indian sports goods company Nivia had their hands full churning out and stacking up a range of different coloured footballs, goalkeeping gloves, jerseys and boots.

Many of the balls have been themed in the national colors of teams hoping to excel in Russia, including Spain, England and Argentina.

The company, which employs 2,000 workers, produces over 250,000 balls per year, which are sold through more than 2,000 dealers nationwide.

The manufacturers told epa that while they used to receive a higher demand for their wares from abroad, which has since decreased due to increasing competition from Chinese, Pakistani and Vietnamese producers, they have had a surge in local and domestic orders ahead of the World Cup.