Most clubs in the country are formed with the sole purpose of competing in the I-League but Guwahati City FC is more concerned with unearthing local talent than raking in commercial success. Wise men say that ‘you need to think big but start small’ and that is exactly what the young and driven founders of the club are doing. We find out more about the club that intends to be the game-changer for the football scene in Assam.
The Common Thread
It all began when Siddhartha Sankar Deka, journalist, Rangman Das, PR professional and licensed coach, Darick Ranjan Deka, marketing expert and Kaustab Chakraborty, digital media marketing strategist met and bonded over a shared dream of developing the football scenario in Assam. ‘Even when we hadn’t met, we had all been dreaming of starting something along the lines of a football club and so when we finally met, it somehow all came together,’ shared Siddhartha.
Four die-hard football fans, they would always lament about the fact that they couldn’t even cheer for their own country during FIFA World Cup. ‘Also, when it comes to clubs, Assam is home to quite a few but they couldn’t taste success like in the case of Shillong Lajong and Aizawl FC. Guwahati, being the gateway of the Northeast, and bigger in comparison to Shillong and Aizawl, with regards to population and economy, was not being able to leave a mark in the football scene. It was hurting fans across Assam, mainly because we all know that the talent pool in the State is quite strong. When NEUFC started, we had high hopes but they would only come for short periods of time and leave after playing their matches. There was hardly any connection to the grassroots level or with the locals.’ The point of establishing Guwahati City FC was to fix exactly that and involve the community so that the football culture can grow all across the State.
The founders started the club about a year back, without the help of a financier. But how can a club survive without funding? They take inspiration from Barcelona’s success story. ‘Barcelona FC is owned by not one millionaire; it is owned by group of people, and these people are common people. This gave us the confidence that the four of us could do it as well,’ informed Siddhartha. ‘Money doesn’t make a club, passion and planning do,’ added Darick.
Guwahati City FC, like other clubs, does plan on one day joining I-League but not yet. Their immediate plan is to inculcate the football culture and start training at a young age. ‘Our focus in on the grassroots level. We have started with football schools at two locations – Barama and Goreswar. We plan to open similar schools in Nagaon, and Diphu in August. Our aim is to open atleast one such school in all districts of Assam within a year.’ The schools have been started in association with reputed local coaches. The team was certain that the schools will have more success if the children were trained by a coach who knows the area and can encourage the parents to send their children for training. Having the brand value of Guwahati City FC also helps, ‘If the coach had about 10 students before the association, the number rises to more than double after we become associated. The moment kids see that a club is associated, they become more interested because they know that their chances of playing professionally goes up.’
The Competitive Spirit
In order to really boost the skills of the young players, the club aims to start a Baby League, which is a structured professional football league for kids between the ages of 6-13. It will run according to rules and regulations of All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) ambitious baby league concept. ‘Many people love Messi, and know a lot about how he signed with Barcelona. But what a lot of people don’t know is that he used to play for Newell’s Old Boys before being signed by the major club. In the competitive matches that he played between the ages of 6 and 12, he scored about 500 goals and that is one of the major reasons why Barcelona FC approached him. This just goes to show that when it comes to football, you cannot deny the importance of competitive matches. The ages between 6-12 is when a player is shaped so they have to gain experience playing matches from then itself.’ The proposed baby league will hold matches of weekends so that kids can take part without skipping out on school.
The Under-18 Team
‘Honestly speaking, we are not even thinking about a senior team at this moment. We are more focussed on U-18, U-15 and U-13 teams.’ Early this year, the club held trials in Guwahati for the Under-18 team. A total of 433 footballers across the Northeast, and from states like Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and West Bengal took part. Organized at Horticulture Research Station, Kahikuchi, the trial was organized in association with Sportscraft Management. ‘Selected players will represent the club in all local, regional and national level youth competitions including U-18 I-League in the near future,’ said Kaustab.
They are also looking for coaches to train the U-18 team. ‘We put up an advertisement, the response was good. We even got a few resumes from coaches from abroad.’
Rural versus Urban
The team also shares that it is important for clubs to reach out to the rural areas because that is where the heart of football lies. ‘Football thrives in rural areas and not urban areas,’ states Siddhartha. ‘Rather than kids in the city, it is young boys in the rural areas who actually envision playing football as a profession. They come up to the coaches and tell them that if they are given training, they are even willing to spend their nights on the streets. They just want to learn and they want to play.’
‘In Guwahati, there is a lot of kids who turn up when we organize a football camp but when we talk about pursuing a career in football, the kids don’t seem to be as interested. But for the boys in the villages, they have nothing to lose so they give it their all,’ revealed Darick. Through the football schools, the club aims to reach out to more and more youngsters. In the coming months, they hope to open more such schools in different location throughout the State.
Fuelling the Dream
Clubs cannot run without money so the members started Sportscraft Management to fuel the club. It is the first limited liability partnership sports management firm of Guwahati registered under Ministry of Corporate Affairs in 2017 with the primary objective of organizing different sports events to cater to different audiences as well as providing dynamic services which revolve around sports. ‘Whatever revenue is generated by Sportscraft Management is spent on the development and promotion of Guwahati City FC.’
Under Sportscraft Management, they held a Residential Summer Soccer Camp in association with Shillong Lajong FC for the young players of the region. The 10-day football camp was the first of its kind in the State. A total of 165 players participated in the camp. This time around, they are planning to take the camp outside of Guwahati to reach out to rural areas. Sportscraft Management also organizes the Futsal Festival in Guwahati, they have already had two successful seasons and this year they will be holding the third edition.
They plan to look for sponsorship to help with the season expenses they will need to bear but they refuse to stall development in order to be financially strong. ‘If we do good work, then money will come but we won’t wait for money to come in to put our plans into action. We also think that if more entrepreneurs in Assam lend a hand to the local football scene, then it will grow and develop faster.’
The Road Ahead
In a couple of years, the team wants to open up their own academy. ‘Right now, most clubs have players coming in during season time. They stay in Guwahati for a couple of days and start competing in the matches. This is why the chemistry is missing. The academy will change all that, the players will live together, eat together, play together and they will bond. This will help them play well and learn from each other.’ They also hope to start a women’s team as there are many talented football players in this part of the country.
‘To start something and sustain it, you need passion and patience and we have both. We have decided to dedicate a large chunk of our lives to this and we want to see India compete in the World Cup in our lifetime, and be able to send players from Assam to be part of the team. When that happens, we will know we have succeeded. We also hope that more clubs with a vision to work at the grassroots come up in the future for the football culture to thrive in Assam’
By Meeta Borah
This feature was first published in Eclectic Northeast (August 2018) issue.