Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Death Of Another Indian Football Club JCT FC Becomes History

Updated: July 16, 2011 10:57 am

As the football fans are getting ready for the Euro Cup, Olympics and World cup qualifiers, the aficionados of the game in India are mourning the death of yet another leading soccer club of the country JCT, Phagwara. Last year Mumbai based Mahindra United was disbanded by its owners who said they were not able to sustain it financially and commercially.

So within a year, two National league-winning clubs have been disbanded and it is definitely not a good sign for Indian football. For most of supporters of the game in the country, June 20th was a black day for the game as it was announced that North India’s most popular club JCT has been disbanded.

A cryptic statement by the club’s management said it all: “Today football teams worldwide have become self-sustaining enterprises for which high exposure is needed to build viewership and spectators in the stadium. JCT won the inaugural national league in 1996, where there was high quality TV exposure and widespread public interest. But since then the league has had negligible exposure and the teams have been going almost unnoticed. JCT Limited has taken a strategic decision to pull out for the time being till football in India shows some possibility of generating value for corporate and their brands, besides bringing up popularity of football among youngsters.”

JCT, formed in 1971, won the inaugural national league in 1996 and has produced several top-class footballers. Club president Samir Thapar, however, will continue his association with football as the president of the Punjab Football Association (PFA) and will continue to work with passion for strengthening the sport at grassroots in Punjab through JCT Football Academy.

In the year it turned 40, JCT owners tried to make a brave case for the club’s dissolution, the fact is that team, which had the distinction of winning the first ever National Football League, was not doing well and had awful 2010-11 season being relegated to I-league Division II. JCT senior vice president Rajmohan Singh also made it clear the decision had nothing to do with the company’s finances as the textile industry is currently doing well.

Last year same fate befell on Mumbai based Mahindra United (MU). Surprisingly, that club was in a robust health, it was laying second in the I-league, had very good track record of inning major titles including the National League, Durand, Federation Cup, IFA Shield, Super Cup, President’s Cup, and had won the local league 15 times since 1971, before the owners decided to put it on guillotine.

JCT was natural successor of another hugely popular Jalandhar based Punjab team Leaders club, which in its 14 years of existence(1960-74) gave new direction to the game in North India and to some extent challenged the hegemony of the Kolkata clubs in Indian football. From the very inception JCT had a strong presence in Indian football which continued for decades. It was the best team in the 90s, with players like IM Vijayan, Bhaichung Bhutia and Jo Paul Ancheri in its ranks. The club in the process further raised the profile of football in Punjab and to large extent in North India. The state produced many players who have represented the country.

“The decision (to disband the team) was a big shock to me. I am very disappointed,” was the reaction of JCT former coach Sukhwinder Singh who added “This decision is a great loss to Punjab and Indian football.” The veteran coach however was very cautious in his views and did not want to be seen anti-establishment “While being sad, however, I can understand the decision. 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.”

Sukhwinder has been associated with JCT since 1992. It was during his time that JCT has started on a bang and won the inaugural National Football league (later renamed I-League) in 1996.

However the present coach Parminder Singh had a different story to tell while describing the disbanding of the club as shocking news, “Everything seemed well despite the club being demoted to second division as he (Samir Thapar) had asked the players to relax and concentrate for the next season so that they would again qualify for first division during a team meeting. But, on Monday, the announcement made by the club threw the future of the players in dark.”

The players were caught totally unaware. “Nobody told us what was happening with the club. We were assured that our future is safe with the club and (Samir) Thapar told us not to join other clubs. Because of that we refused offers from other clubs. Now what will happen to us, our family?” said Pawan Kumar, who joined JCT last year and has one year of contract left with the club.

With the club unable to attract big names owing to their poor performance for the last three seasons and top players from the club joining other clubs, young players from the state were expected to perform miracle which they failed to do. In the past, big names like Bahichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri, and IM Vijayan had played for the club and took the Millmen to unprecedented heights in the last 90s and early 2000.

Meanwhile, JCT has maintained that its academies will continue to function for the development of players at the grassroots level. However, that decision has not gone well with the staff members. “What is the use of academies when the senior team has been disbanded? JCT was the only place where the players from academies could have gone and played professional football. Now, what will happen to their future? Where will the players from Punjab go and play football?” was the unanswered query.

Also the focus still remains on the predicament of the players who are on contract basis, unlike the coaching and management staffs who are employees of the club. While the soccer players and fans were bemoaning the demise of another club, the game’s administrators tried to make it look as a routine affair.

Instead of expressing concern, they came out with bizarre explanations. The CEO of the I-League, Sunando Dhar, was of the view that what is happening here was 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 per cent 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. Corporate 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.

All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel also did not show any sign of worry over JCT club’s decision asserting that corporate will bankroll new teams. He opined that lack of professionalism in running the clubs led to the closure of JCT and earlier MU.

He dismissed the view that dissolution of two major clubs in last one year has sent wrong signals “Coincidentally, it was only today that the Jindal Group inquired about wanting to be involved with a club. Sajjan Jindal said he would like to start a team. I have told him to send the proposal. There are at least 10 corporate interested in investing in Indian football.”

If so many corporate houses are willing to come forward then why AIFF has not been able to get a sponsor for its development side Indian Arrows and also why I-League matches were not telecast live nationally, despite a 15-year Rs 700 crore deal with IMG-Reliance last year? These questions have not been answered.

Despite AIFF’s bold assertions, the corporate(s) think otherwise and many have supported JCT management decision.

Most of them feel that AIFF itself is not professional and running the game inefficiently. “For the time being, till football in the country becomes financial and commercially viable for corporate(s) and their brands, besides becoming popular among youngsters, it will be difficult to pump in the money.” said Nandan Piramal, chief of Piramal’s entertainment and sports divisions. Piramal Group is the promoter of Pune FC.

One of the reasons for JCT’s pullout, according to Piramal, is lack of a full-fledged second division. “The second division is not a great place to be. You play for one or two months in a year, if you do well you get promoted and if you don’t, you remain. If you have an I-League second division played all year the round, it might be more viable. The JCT owners might have thought paying the players for 12 months to play for two months a year wasn’t a great idea,” he said.

Piramal said: “In English football, clubs can get up to 60 or 70 per cent of their revenue from TV. Here, AIFF gets all the revenue and doesn’t distribute it to the clubs. The issue is compounded by the fact that the I-League hasn’t had a broadcast partner for over a season. This may have led to a fall in attendance at the stadiums. “Last season, the attendance was down by 40 to 50 per cent.”

“Since the games aren’t aired on TV, the papers don’t devote too much space to the I-League. At times, the people don’t even know that a game going on,” he added.

Ironically the uneven structure of the Indian football system came to the fore at the same time when JCT club announced its closure. Odafe Okolie, the I-League’s most prolific striker, 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.

By Harpal Singh Bedi

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