Salgaocar FC's bittersweet goodbye - Fall of a Goan giant
Salgaocar FC (1956-2023) shutting down marked the end of an era in Indian football. Former players, fans and football enthusiasts reflect on the legacy of one of India's oldest and most successful clubs.
In a recent announcement that sent shockwaves through the football community, Salgaocar FC revealed that they would be shutting down their main team operations.
When a giant falls, it is usually a protracted process. It was the same with Salgaocar FC, one of Indian football's oldest and most successful clubs. There were concerns when the Goan club pulled out of the I-League two years after the introduction of the ISL citing bias against the I-League, there were concerns when the club declared they would not field a team in the Goa Pro League this year either, but no one was quite prepared for the final blow that was to come.
Fans, former players, and ardent followers of the beautiful game now find themselves enveloped in a sea of profound sorrow, their souls heavy with the weight of an extraordinary legacy having come to its end.
A Tapestry of Glorious Moments
Salgaocar FC, a fortress forged in the flames of passion and determination back in 1956, has long been a guiding light in Indian football. They burst onto the scene with incredible momentum, sailing through the second division without a single defeat. In a remarkable debut season, they secured their spot in the premier division, leaving a trail of awe in their wake.
As the first to bestow Goa with recipients of the prestigious Arjuna Award, they have transcended mere victories and titles, becoming synonymous with the pride and joy of an entire region.
With four titles in the Federation Cup, triumphant thrice in the revered Durand Cup, and a glorious triumph in the erstwhile National Football League, now known as the I-League, Salgaocar's triumphs are the stuff of legends.
The unkindest cut of all, the decision to shut the majestic machinery of the main team operations, is the culmination of a cascade of events that have inexorably transformed the panorama of Indian football over the last decade.
In 2016, Salgaocar FC, along with Dempo SC and Churchill Brothers, withdrew from the Hero I-League. This move was fueled by a perceived lack of future for I-League clubs, as the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) began to dominate as the country's premier football league.
But then an even more sinister shadow cropped up, which is why Salgaocar's closure also evokes concerns about the tarnished reputation of Goan football.
With a heavy heart, Salgaocar FC voiced their distress over match-fixing and betting allegations that loomed over Goan football.
“This (match-fixing and betting) has destroyed the very charm of competitive matches and the thrill of winning since one never knows whether the opponent has thrown away the match or conceded more goals than merited due to external pressures,” the club said in a statement when withdrawing from the Goa Pro League.
The club also complained that the blocking of many grounds for the practices and matches of the Indian Super League (ISL) held in Goa only exacerbated an already fragile situation. Salgaocar FC encountered obstacles in securing grounds for their youth age teams too, they said.
Oh, the memories!
Former players, the heart and soul of Salgaocar FC, now find themselves in the throes of profound anguish as they reflect upon their cherished days in the iconic green jersey.
Derrick Pereira, a legend among legends, who spent 20 years at the club as player and coach, recalls his first day at the club with trembling emotion.
"The most cherished memory was the day when I received an invitation for trials. It was the realization of a lifelong dream, the club is from my hometown of Vasco. A dream shared by my father, a devotee of Salgaocar FC, who yearned for me to don the colors of this revered club. That was the genesis of my footballing odyssey," he says.
Reflecting on the glory days of Salgaocar FC, Derrick Pereira fondly recalls the pivotal role played by Coach Shanmugam in building a formidable team.
"It was Mr. Shanmugam, our coach, my first coach, and it was his second year as well. He took on a task of assembling a team composed of young players like me. It took him nearly two to three years to forge a formidable unit. Slowly but surely, we began to make our presence felt. In fact, there was a remarkable stretch where we reached the finals four consecutive years – from 1987 to 1990. We experienced the bitter taste of defeat on two occasions, but we also savored victory twice during that period."
"In particular, the Federation Cup held a special significance for us. It was the premier national tournament where we faced off against the very best teams in the country. Shanmugam built a great team, created a base and brought in some excellent players."
On the setback Goan football is facing right now, he says, "Withdrawal of Salgaocar, Dempo SC and Churchill Brothers from the I-league affected Goan football. With three teams moving out, a lot of opportunities for players to show their talent were lost.
"Salgaocar have now withdrawn from the Pro League, it's another setback for Goan football. For me it's a very emotional time. I've learnt and I've changed over the years because of football and because of Salgaocar FC."
Brahmanand Sankhwalkar, a former Indian footballer, etched his name in the annals of the sport as a goalkeeping maestro. With a stellar 25-year career that included 17 years at Salgaocar FC, he captivated fans and earned a reputation as one of India's finest goalkeepers.
Brahmanand also represented the Goa state team and was the first Goan player to receive the prestigious Arjuna Award, solidifying his status as a true legend of the game.
"Salgaocar were generous enough to release me whenever needed for national team duty. There was a very friendly and cozy environment in the club between the players, officials and coaches. The owners were very cordial, I felt homely there. When I joined I had a 100% chance to play in the starting eleven, because their other goalkeeper was injured. They called me after seeing my performance in Bandodkar Gold trophy."
Brahmanand however is hopeful that the club will reopen the main team operations in the future.
"Shivanand Salgaocar has come out with a statement... where he has also said that the team may come back. They have two youth teams now, to keep the continuity," he says.
He concluded by adding that the club will forever be cherished by the community.
"People think about the past performances of the club, the victories, the achievements and their attachment to the the larger community. We hope that the club comes back, that is the only thing I hope."
Fans in Desolation
Hillary Fernandes, a steadfast supporter of Salgaocar FC since 1958, pours out his heart as he reflects on the cherished memories and the club's recent closure. For Hillary, witnessing the club's first league title victory holds a special place in his heart, an extraordinary achievement that transpired even before the liberation of Goa.
The stakes were high, with Academica needing a win and Salgaocar requiring a draw to secure the title. Against all odds, Salgaocar emerged victorious, etching the moment deep within Hillary's soul and solidifying his unwavering loyalty to the club.
"The best memory will be Bruno Coutinho scoring that golden goal at the Salt Lake Stadium in the Federation Cup against East Bengal in 1997. I will never forget that. The game was tied at the end of regulation time, Bruno scored in extra time."
Those were the glorious days when football reigned supreme, and the triumphs of Salgaocar FC became symbols of hope and pride for the entire community.
Yet, as he contemplates the recent withdrawal of clubs like Dempo SC and Churchill, Hillary can't help but express his concerns.
The club's closure not only marks the end of an era but also evokes a sense of collective loss within the football community. It serves as a poignant reminder of the challenges faced by football in Goa and the need to preserve the spirit and legacy of the game.
Amidst the emotions surrounding Salgaocar FC's departure, it is important to acknowledge that changes have occurred in Indian football since the club's concerns were raised. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has implemented measures to address the promotion and relegation system between the I-League and the Indian Super League (ISL). This development aims to create a more structured and equitable footballing landscape in the country.
As the landscape continues to evolve, it is important to acknowledge the progress made and the commitment of football governing bodies to address concerns raised by clubs like Salgaocar FC.
As we bid farewell to Salgaocar FC, let us remember their contributions to the sport and the issues they raised, while also embracing the positive changes and the prospect for a brighter future for Indian football.