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