24 Oct 2017 05:43am IST
Alexandre Moniz Barbosa
Goa’s fleeting tryst with a FIFA World Cup has ended. But, one can say that the Goan dream of hosting a World Cup ended even before the final whistle could be blown in the first round matches. Face it, football powerhouses Brazil, Germany, England among others played at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Fatorda and the immediate take away from the championship matches is that there is little interest in football if a Goan is not playing in the team.
Goans rued the fact that there was no local player in the Indian team, and many asserted that there should have been one. This was brought up in almost every conversation on the Under-17 World Cup. It didn’t matter to those making this observation that the Indian team did not play in Goa. They also didn’t stop to think that there is no quota system in sports and the team management can’t be blamed if there wasn’t any Goan lad in that age group, who could make it to the team. Making it to the national team depends on ability, and there was no Goan lad worthy of the Indian jersey.
The Goan football fan’s indifference to the championship was visible through the empty stands and this could cost Goa dearly if India hosts the Under-20 World Cup in the future, which it hopes to do. The average attendance was 11,000 spectators in a stadium that has a capacity of 19,000. The round of 16 matches of the Under-17 World Cup played in Goa perhaps got the least number of spectators. By the time the second match of the evening was midway, there were hardly 1500 persons on the stands.
It was only when Brazil played Niger at Fatorda that the demand for tickets to the match went up, and then when England played USA, which saw a crowd of just over 16,000. As the Goa matches of the World Cup have ended, the highest attendance was for the England versus USA quarter final, that drew a decent spectatorship and only because England was one of the teams on the field. Football lovers who stayed through the 90 minutes of the match, however, came back not convinced that the game was a treat to watch, or that the atmosphere at the stadium gave the feeling of a FIFA World Cup.
The Under-17 World Cup has never been much of a draw in any of the countries where it has been held. Spectatorship has been low, always, but FIFA is happy with the crowds in India. When the number of spectators crossed 8 lakh after 36 matches, Javier Ceppi, Director of the U-17 World Cup, claimed it had been more successful than the 2011 Cricket World Cup. So while the championship drew crowds at the other centres, Goa, with a stadium seating capacity of 19,000 was not able to match the crowds in the other cities.
Does this does say much of the love of football in Goa?
Before answering this question it is essential to take a brief pause and read what the FIFA Under-17 World Cup website has to say about Goa. Describing each of the venues of the World Cup, the FIFA website on Goa says: “Being a colony of the Portuguese, one thing that got embedded in Goan culture was the love for football. The culture of football in Goa is different from the rest of the country because of the idiosyncratic roots in the activities of an indigenized Catholic Church, an antiquity of emigration, and in the process of decolonisation.”
It gets it right when it says that the love for football, comes from its history and its being a colony of the Portuguese. But, did the attendance at the matches of the World Cup, display that love? Where were the football fans from Goa, those fanatics who stop to watch a roadside match between villages clubs, or those who stay up late night to watch the English Premier League? Where was the love for the game, if they thronged the Fatorda stadium only when Brazil played and then again when England played?
When Goans regret the fact that there wasn’t a single Goan lad in the Indian soccer team and that it had nine boys from Manipur, it is time to take another pause to see what the same FIFA website says about Guwahati, another Word Cup venue in the country. “In fact, what makes the region of India stand out is the overwhelming dominance that football enjoys here over all other sports. From winning the national championship regularly in both the men’s and women’s category, across different age groups, Assam and its adjoining states have ensured that if there were to be a tag for being the ‘football capital of the country’, they would cumulatively emerge as the most deserving candidates.”
Times change and so do capitals. Goa, perhaps never was the football capital of the country, but it dominated the football scene in India for a few years, picking up the Santosh trophy and its clubs winning the Federation Cup and even consistently the I-League, bringing to the league a luster that no other State could.
There was a time when there were six Goan clubs in the National Football League that was the predecessor of the I-League. No other State has matched Goa’s prowess in the I-League, where clubs from the State have also won more I-League titles than clubs from all other States that are represented in the league. Goan clubs won the first six of the nine editions of the I-League, with Dempo taking the title thrice, Churchill Brothers twice and Salgaocar once. And then, instead of it getting better, there has been nothing but disappointment for Goa and Goan football.
The North East region has capitalised on the waning passion for football in Goa. The true football fan has been replaced by the one who wants not just football but something more. The glamour, that was missing from the World Cup, but of which the ISL has oodles of, will bring the fans back to the stadium, but that is entertainment with a dash of football. Sadly, that appears to be the future of football in Goa. There will not be any players on the Goan football field, if there are no fans on the stands. Bring back the fans and you will get back the players.
(Alexandre Moniz Barbosa is Executive Editor, Herald.)