Football Freestylin’ Across the Subcontinent

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In India, freestyle footballers are mixing the skills of traditional sport with the style of intense dance battles.

We're seeing it everywhere-stunning neck stalls, head juggles, toe stalls and shoulder pins-freestyle ballers throwing down artful moves and choreographed stances. This football-dance hybrid is the latest entrant in the Indian underground sport scene.

On a recent afternoon, under the crisp winter sun, we caught up with Style Unit crew, at an open courtyard in Mumbai. It looked like a stage for a concert or performance, but instead all the eyes were on a group of hipsters, locking and popping with a football.

These After Hours Athletes were keeping the ball airborne, while performing sick break dance routines to rhythmic beats. It was a dazzling display of tricks-passing, heading, dribbling, shooting, kicking, moves, receiving, trapping, and control.

Apart from Mumbai, freestylers in Delhi, Shillong, Kanpur, and Jodhpur are battling their teammates (often in public spaces that used to be dominated by cricket).

While a typical performance runs for ten to twenty minutes, battles go longer. If you want to catch a performance, just keep your eyes open. Football freestyling is cropping up wherever there's a little extra space, from deserted alleys to busy street corners.

Why has it taken off so quickly? "Freestyle football is more of a lifestyle for us, a creative outlet and source of entertainment," explains one freestyler. And, all you need is a ball.

Photos courtesy of Manik Misra