Since the past six years, the Gaurs have established deep roots into the football structure in Goa keeping in focus the development of the sports at the grassroots level in the state.
Once upon a time, Goan football was synonymous with the Big Four, more powerful than the Big Three in Kolkata. Dempo Sports Club, Salgaocar Sports Club, Churchill Brothers FC and Sporting Clube de Goa were among the more prestigious clubs in Indian football, and at least three of them won multiple titles. Sporting Clube came close twice only to falter at the final hurdle.
Now, Goan football is a different world. From dominating India’s top division football league to an existential crisis, Goa took a tumble for the worse, before Hero Indian Super League club FC Goa made impressive strides in reviving the region’s stature.
Within five years, the Gaurs have become the club for every Goan to follow. They have established deep roots into the football structure in Goa and are already working on long-term plans and development at the grassroots.
It has helped that FC Goa have been consistent performers in the ISL. Only once have they missed out on a top-four place, and in the last two years under Sergio Lobera, Goa have been able to bring a Spanish flavour into Indian football with excellent signings and attacking football on display.
“I think we are a club that represents the whole community and that is now very much part of our ethos. We don’t do anything without involving our fans and having them to be a big part of our activities, marketing and season tickets. I think we are the only (Hero ISL) club who have crossed 1000 season ticket holders and this year we are going to cross 1500 season ticket holders,” FC Goa president Akshay Tandon said.
Tandon is not far off the mark. In addition to their senior team exploits, the Gaurs have built an excellent pyramid with their youth academy and age-category teams interlinked to their senior team. FC Goa’s developmental team won the 2018-19 season of the Goa Pro League, eclipsing the likes of Salgaocar, Churchill Brothers, Dempo and Sporting, the established names in the region.
FC Goa also have U14, U16, U18 and U20 teams with a clear path for those who aspire to play for the senior side. In just two years, Mohammad Nawaz, Liston Colaco, Saviour Gama and Jonathan Cardozo have all progressed higher up the rank, and more will follow in their footsteps this season.
Goa have the highest number of local players in the team. Last season there were eight of them, more than any other club. Significantly, four of them – Mandar Rao Dessai, Brandon Fernandes, Seriton Fernandes and Lenny Rodrigues – are all regulars in the team.
“We owe it all to the fans, we do it for them and we do it to engage with the community. We are committed to having Goans and locals in our squad. So, it is all thanks to our fans, the Goan community and how passionate they are about the game. So, if we can just give back to them what they give us, then we are simple custodians of their pride,” Tandon said.
For every home match in Goa, the sight of fans travelling to the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium at Fatorda with their cars decked, faces painted and flags fluttering, is infectious. With Goa on fire on the field, and doing some commendable work beyond – the Forca Goa foundation trains more than 1000 kids throughout the year – this could continue for a long time to come.