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Why Goan football needs legacy clubs to make a comeback?

Why Goan football needs legacy clubs to make a comeback?

Olive Paul

Published: 9 Feb 2020 10:04 AM GMT

Three NFL titles, six I-League crowns and six Federation Cup trophies – these are Goa’s Indian domestic football records. But fast forward to 2019, Churchill Brothers is the only club left from Goa in the I-League. So what happened to the state, which was once the country’s football hotbed?

Opinions differ but many believe the closure of three Goan clubs namely Dempo SC, Salgaocar FC and Sporting Club De Goa one by one, was a body blow to the football ecosystem in the state.

Dempo SC: One of the India's most successful clubs ever.

The owner's decision to shut shop was in protest All India Football Federation's (AIFF) proposed road map to restructure domestic football.

In the history of I-league, many clubs have shut down operations owing to spiraling costs, limited media coverage and lack of fan following.

Fans are the life blood of any football club. Without their support, there would be no money coming into the system. Lack of fans has been a serious problem not only with the Goan clubs but other clubs other clubs that have ceased to exist.

"Indian clubs have traditionally done nothing to build support bases. The relationship between fans and their clubs here is ridiculously one-sided love affairs usually don't last," said Dr Shaji Prabhakaran, President of Delhi Football and a consultant on football.

"If communities are not involved, clubs can never be a business proposition. If JCT or for that matter, Mahindra United had a committed set of fans, the clubs wouldn't have wound up this easily.

"It isn't Indian clubs alone who spend more than they earn. After all, 56% of football clubs worldwide are in debt. Look at South America. Clubs there have a tradition of being bailed out by governments and that happens because politicians realise and respect the power and the passion of the communities that support these clubs. JCT has been around for long and it is sad that they pulled out, but tell me, how did they add value to the community?"

In Europe and across the globe, clubs are tied to cities and regions — Manchester, Dortmund, Munich, Barcelona, and Milan have a strong city of regional connect. Athletic Bilbao from LaLiga stands for Basque country pride.

In Goa however, the top teams carry a corporate name associated with them. How can in that case then a Dempo SC, Churchil Brothers or Salgaocar FC evoke loyalty or pride? Or for that matter JCT, DSK Shivijians or Mahindra United?

FC Goa -- an Indian Super League (ISL) club -- is the most vibrant franchise and has captured the hearts of the local population. Match days at the Fatorda Stadium are packed, and for each of the past five seasons, FC Goa has managed to sell out at least 93% of their seats, with the highest being 98.54% in the 2015 season.

FC Goa has proved to be a hit among Goans (Image:ISL)
FC Goa has proved to be a hit among Goans (Image:ISL)

This is in sharp contrast to I-League matches in Goa where the stands don't have more than 2000 spectators for any game. Matches are more often than not played before deserted galleries.

It could be said that this drastic contrast is mostly because FC Goa has managed to connect with local community and they have invested substantial amounts doing that.

Despite the success of ISL clubs, the closure of so many clubs is a cause of worry. ISL clubs cannot alone sustain Indian football. For the sport to flourish there should be more clubs at the bottom of the pyramid for a healthy ecosystem.

Our leagues can accommodate 20-30 clubs but India would need more than 500 active clubs to create enough opportunities for players at the local level,” said Prabhakaran.

Five hundred clubs might be a little far fetched in the present circumstances but getting Dempo, Salgocar FC and Sporting Club De Goa back in the I-league fold would be a good start.

Perhaps these clubs could pool in their resources and join forces and represent in the I-League as one club. In fact, it was the partnership between Dattaraj Salgoacar, Srinivas Dempo and Videocon that won the bidding rights for FC Goa. They later exited the franchise after serious disagreement with ISL organizers. Since then the relationship between the AIFF and Goa Football Association (GFA) has taken a turn for worse.

Former India skipper Bruno Coutinho believes in the interest of the Indian football, "it is not up to the AIFF to impress upon the Goan clubs to come back to the I League."

However, before winding up, Dempo SC owner did offer a ray hope. In a correspondence to the AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das it said,

"This decision (to close down) does not, of course, preclude our option to re-enter the I-league or any new competition introduced by the AIFF/I-League in coming times."

If the Goan owners do decide to make a comeback in the future, they must take lessons from the past. They have to find a way to make themselves better commercial entity with a strong community connect. Otherwise, they will suffer the same fate as that of JCT or a Mahindra United.

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