We’ve all seen those internet virals of three professional footballers playing against 100 schoolchildren in pre-season kickabouts.
But have you heard the one about a nation of a billion people playing against a Division Three side in East London?
Well that’s exactly what happened on July 31 2001 when India came to play against Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road.
The details of the game are incredibly sketchy – one website by the name of indianfootball.de (we won’t go into the fact it’s got a German domain name because this is all already weird enough) tells us that the score was 1-1, there were approximately 1,800 people there, and Paul Alcock – he of being pushed over by Paolo Di Canio fame – was the referee.
“I do remember the game quite well actually,” says Orient legend Matt Lockwood, who played in the game.
“I remember just how noisy the crowd were that day – the atmosphere was really good even though it wasn’t a full house.”
Here’s a first sticking point – while the internet records it at approximately 1,800 fans, Lockwood says it was more like 3,000.
“The India fans were out in force and making themselves heard. There would have definitely been more than 1,800 there that day if I remember rightly – but even if there were only 1,800 they definitely sounded like there were twice that amount.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by fans on a forum when asked about the game, with some describing it as a ‘family friendly’ atmosphere, with others say many UK-based Indian fans attended the game.
Other details from fans on Twitter suggest that Indian national team shirts were available to buy from the club shop, the match was beamed back to India, and a Bollywood star scored the goal for India.
A bit of further research points us in the direction of India’s goalscorer that day, a Mr I.M. Vijayan, who had a decent career for the national team, scoring 32 goals in 70 appearances between 1989-2004.
Vijayan went onto have a career in Bollywood, appearing in 15 films, before returning to the game in the role of a government observer for football.
“Standard wise, they weren’t any better than us, but the atmosphere was completely different than any other game at Brisbane Road,” says Lockwood.
“It was fun, and an afternoon that put a smile on everyone’s face.”
India’s tour of England in the summer of 2001 was a part-PR exercise, part-preparation for the Afro-Asian Games that were held in New Delhi later that year – a tournament that was then postponed after increased fears of terrorist attacks following 9/11.
India had already been beaten by Brentford and Nottingham Forest before visiting Orient, where a 1-1 draw was their best performance of the trip. They rounded off their visit to England with a 2-0 loss to Walsall three days after the Orient match.
“For us it was another pre-season friendly – it was on the 31st July so it would have been one of our final ones before the season started. Looking back at the team, it was a full strength side that started so it was clearly a game that we took seriously,” Lockwood says.
“Back when Tommy (Taylor, former Orient manager) was in charge, we would always go to weird and wonderful places – I think it was the season before that that we went to Antigua on our pre-season tour.
“But because they were on a tour of English teams, it would have been a perfect opportunity for us to play them and have a run out – even it was purely a fitness exercise.”
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