Members of the Orange Army talked to Khel Now about the problems that might be faced if the club shift their base.
Years in the business of football, Pune has succeeded in becoming one of the top destinations for the sport in the state of Maharashtra. Before the Indian Super League (ISL) even came into existence, Pune was amongst the few cities that had multiple clubs featuring in the top tier of the country, I-League.
In 2014, Pune FC, which was a top club not just in the city but all over India, participated for the first time ever in the AFC Champions League Qualifiers against Vietnamese side Hanoi T&T. The likes of Amrinder Singh, Anas Edathodika, Arata Izumi were all part of Pune squad at that time. While the club achieved that feat, it created a lot of buzz around the city and grabbed the attention of lots of youngsters who started following the sport closely.
However, in the same year, the ISL was established and that was followed by a couple of clubs including Pune FC alongwith Kalyani Bharat, getting disbanded. A whole new entity then came into existence under the name of FC Pune City and was run by the Wadhawan Group in partnership with Bollywood star Hrithik Roshan.
The marketing policies of the newfound club and the league overall were very impactful which helped them attract lots of passionate football fans to support them. The Orange Army, Pune City’s dedicated supporters’ group, since became an integral part of the club.
By that time, Pune also acquired the academy of Pune FC as youngsters like Sahil Panwar and Ashique Kuruniyan became the club’s priceless possessions. Everything was working in favour of the club and city. In their fourth season, under the tutelage of Ranko Popovic, the Stallions also qualified for the playoffs for the first time since their inception.
During the latter stages of the fifth season however, the news of the club’s financial woes came to light. This was a shocker to everyone. Yet, to provide some relief to the fans and the many aspirants of football in the city, the club’s CEO Gaurav Modwel confirmed that Pune City will continue functioning in the ISL next campaign.
“There is a possibility of the club being branded under a different name and the location could move from Pune to another city, depending on how things pan out,” he asserted.
This naturally brings football in the city under threat. After all, football in the city has seen a lot of development at the grassroots level thanks to the academy of Pune City. But now that talks for the club to shift its base are in progress, where does it leave football in the city?
While explaining the impact that the move will have on the city’s football, Ameet Deosthale from the Orange Army stated, “The footballing culture in the city was gathering momentum since the inception of the club. The fans for the game have increased over the years, but I think that Pune is still in the nascent stage of developing a fully-fledged footballing culture even after 5-6 years of the league.”
“The fans would lose out on their team which they thought as akin to their family, whereas the prospective talented players in the city would have to do without the club’s well-established training infrastructure which would surely create a void.”
Another member of the Orange Army Nitin Jadhav said, “The club’s academy has created some great players like Dhanpal Ganesh, Kuruniyan, Gaurav Bora, Panwar and thus we know that Pune is making a huge impact on national football.”
“If the club does happen to move outside the state, I don’t think life will be the same for anyone who loves and cares for football in the city.”
“I would be completely heartbroken if this happens, as Pune deserves more football,” pointed out Ranveer Singh Rathod, while Abhishek Phadke claimed, “FC Pune City is a club meant to be in Pune city.”
Deosthale, who has been a fan of Pune City since its inception, went on to state that fans will stay loyal to the club despite the move, but the confidence of the home ground and their sense of belonging might be lost in transit.
In a way, the reactions of the fans sum up the impact that football in the city will be subjected to. Yet, to their disappointment, the club remains vulnerable to financial snags.
In the end, it all comes down to a simple question. Will the club’s shift prove to be detrimental to the footballing scenario in the city, the answer to which is unfortunately ‘Yes.’