The future of Goan football hangs in the balance

Will other football clubs follow Salgaocar FC?
Salgaocar FC in victorious times
Salgaocar FC in victorious times

BY ANTONIO BOTELHO

Last Wednesday, Goan newspapers and social media headlined Salgaocar Football Club not having submitted entry forms for the Goa Professional League and two other GFA youth tournaments – the under-18 and under-20 categories. 

In the opinion of this guest writer, the news should have been no surprise. Some days earlier, the same newspapers had already carried stories that the club was one of those which had not submitted entry forms for GFA competitions by the deadline.

Salgaocar FC in victorious times
Respecting our migrant brethren

Typically, we, in Goa, shouted ourselves hoarse about the “demise” of one of its greatest Goan football teams – an indisputable fact. The cessation of the 67-year-old history of the senior professional team was lamented by a dying breed of football fans. 

Salgaocar FC in victorious times
‘Mhozo Tallo Aikat’: Showcasing local talent, preserving Goan culture

There were also some disturbing but very valid comments in social media too – on the changing demographics (read region of birth) of Goan players, the decreasing number of inter-village tournaments, the unused SAG playgrounds and the weak spectator turnout at major tournaments, including the ISL and GFA leagues.

Salgaocar FC in victorious times
Goa’s other night life

In my opinion, three reasons (there could be more) led to this situation. Firstly, a team cannot now exist in the top echelons of any sport without deep-pocketed owners or sponsors, the latter category often short-term or seasonal. 

The first Indian track and field Olympic gold medal in the last edition of the games would not have been won without the sizable support from JSW Steel.

Salgaocar FC in victorious times
No room for human error on AI-controlled Goan roads

Secondly, the infrastructure necessary for clubs or teams in the modern era – owned or leased stadia, multiple practice grounds, etc. These difficulties could be overcome. 

But, the concept of club allegiance should translate into club membership and fan support, with members buying tickets to their team’s matches – not seeking free passes for themselves and family or friends.

Salgaocar FC in victorious times
Savour these delectable meals at Double Tree by Hilton Goa Panjim

The club structures too have to change – although all village clubs have elected bodies, more often than not all the hard work is dumped on one individual, with the other committee members turning either into armchair spectators, or worse – armchair critics.

Thirdly, “inflation” has hit sports too. Expenses have surged, whilst the income from heads such as gate receipts has declined – it was never much anyway.

Salgaocar FC in victorious times
Run for a cause at Goa Tourism Nuron Rotary Rain Run in July

Attempts at commercialisation – sale of supporter gear by several teams – have not been very successful and may have led to heavier losses due to unsold stocks.

On the other hand, the salaries of players and coaches have increased, and additional support staff, such as physiotherapists, is now compulsory for clubs participating in the GFA leagues

Salgaocar FC in victorious times
Get a glimpse of colonial heritage of Goa

It is another matter that the spirit behind these rules is subverted by teams claiming they are unaffordable. Thus you see qualified coaches and physios who have never seen the players before their first GFA match.

This could be one of the reasons for Salgaocar’s withdrawal on June 24, 2016, from the I-League together with Sporting Clube de Goa and Dempo Sports Club

Salgaocar FC in victorious times
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The explanation given then was the lack of a proper road map by the AIFF and the downgrading of the I-League below the ISL. It sounded genuine, but it may also have been a red herring, anticipating the impending mining crisis.

India’s Supreme Court ruled that Goan iron ore leaseholders had carried on mining from November 22, 2007, to September 10, 2012, without possessing valid mining leases. 

Salgaocar FC in victorious times
Sex and the promise of marriage

Given that the matter had been simmering since 2007, it might also explain Dempo’s decision to exit most mining activities in 2009 and the trio’s decision to quit the I-League in 2014.

So why does Salgaocar FC continue with youth football activities below the age of 15 years? It could be to comply with a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) commitment, or it could be to retain a link, however tenuous, with the GFA, for re-entry at the higher level.

Salgaocar FC in victorious times
Celebrating the feast of St Peter in Goa with the unique 'sangodd'

But then what of Dempo and Sporting? Will they also follow in Salgaocar’s footsteps? The first named has invested heavily in a football academy which could, if push comes to shove, be converted into a larger educational institution. 

The second continues, apparently unaffected despite losing its founder and driving force, the late Peter Vaz, to the COVID pandemic

Salgaocar FC in victorious times
Making July plans in Goa?

Can anything be done to stem the tide? Time will tell what the future holds for Goan football.

(The writer was the former general secretary of Dempo Sports Club and GFA.)

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