Disbanded JCT, Mahindra send a message to AIFF

Disbanded JCT, Mahindra send a message to AIFF

Success, visibility key to footballs progress in the country

sad demise JCT FC deciding to disband the club, a year after another big team Mahindra United did the same, has raised several questions regarding the  viability of running a football club in India.

When JCT, the first ever National Football League champions, decided to disband their club after a disappointing 2010-11 season when they were relegated to I-League Division II, the feeling going around was: Oh no, not again!

Mahindra United, winners of the League in 2006, had done the exact same thing the previous season. If that decision was met with shock and disbelief, the JCT decision was even staggering.

The Punjab team has been a strong presence in Indian football for decades. JCT were the best team in the 90s, boasting the simultaneous presence of men like IM Vijayan, Bhaichung Bhutia and Jo Paul Ancheri. At the same time, JCT will be remembered for raising the profile of football in Punjab. Thanks to JCT and their academy system -- which they will continue to run despite disbanding the club -- Punjab has produced many players who have gone on to don India colours.

Now, there is not a single I-League club in North India, after Indian Arrows, formerly based in Delhi, decided to shift base to Kolkata. “I’m very, very disappointed. It came as a huge shock to me,” JCT coach Sukhwinder Singh told Deccan Herald. “This decision is a great loss to Punjab and India.

“While being sad, however, I can understand the decision. It is similar to Mahindra’s. At the end of the day, the club was just losing more and more money, and being relegated was the final straw. They say Indian football is progressing, but there is nothing to prove it, no tangible results. We haven’t qualified for the World Cup or Olympics, and we aren’t close to qualifying either. Indian football needs to be more visible; without more people being aware of the game and through that taking up football seriously, there is no hope,” bemoaned the former India international.

Mufaddal A Choonia, deputy general manager, of Mahindra said the Mumbai club arrived at the conclusion last season that the I-League was not the way to go.

“Our main problem was we were not making an impact on Indian football, which is why we decided to disband and work at the grassroot level. Bringing up talent is more important for an up-and-coming footballing country like India,” he said. “But of course, running a club in the current situation is not financially viable. There are no crowds, no coverage. If you want to try and make money out of running a club in this scenario, it just isn’t possible.”

The CEO of the I-League, Sunando Dhar, though, felt that what is happening here in India is not so different from other countries. “You look at any big clubs around the world. Not too many of them make money. Clubs like Manchester United and Real Madrid have huge debts. More than 95% of the clubs in the world do not make money. This problem is not just India-centric; the mood in India is not as downcast as some might suggest.

“There still are many parties interested in forming an I-League club. Corporates are very much looking to be a part of our league. We are definitely going to have a broadcaster for next year, which will naturally increase the visibility,”  he said.

Odafe Okolie, the I-League’s most prolific striker, recently struck a record deal worth over Rs 1.5 crore with Mohun Bagan, while Bangalore’s Xavier Vijay Kumar will make a cool Rs 90 lakh after signing with Churchill Brothers. And Xavier’s former manager M Muralidharan of Hindustan Aeronautics Sports Club , while being disappointed at the loss of a big club, felt that the future of the game was promising. “I was sad to see JCT disband. But from our point of view, there are only positives. The management of HASC is very happy. The managing director met us recently and congratulated us for staying in the I-League proper. The management has indicated that there will be an increase in our budget for next season,” he said.

The Aircraftmen’s budget for last year was Rs 1.5 crore. “Football has always been their priority when it comes to sports, and it is going to continue being so,” Muralidharan added.

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