While a large part of the footballing world focuses on key UEFA games in the world of soccer, we decided to speak to Sahil Mahajan, the secretary of the Shastri FC (shastrifc.com) in New Delhi about football, their club and the state of soccer in our nations capital.
Harmit : Please tell us a little about Shastri FC. When and how was it formed, when did the new management take it over and what are your ambitions for the club?
Sahil: Shastri FC was founded in 1966 after the passing away of our ex-Prime Minister Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri as a tribute to his contribution to our nation. Shastri Football Club was taken over by Wizom Solutions from Infinity Optimal Solutions (IOS) in July 2009. The idea was not just participating in the League, but actively working towards the development of Football in Delhi and NCR by encouraging young talent especially from schools to come and avail the Training facilities offered by the Club at its various centers. Also, conducting monthly activities like quiz competitions, health camps, and selections for Club youth team etc. are the other priorities of the Club.
Harmit :Does the club own any infrastructure – training ground, office building, any hard assets at all?
Sahil: The club owns an office in Surajmal Vihar, East Delhi, has 7 academies across NCR including Noida and Ghaziabad. Soon, we will be the first club in India to have a world-class residential Academy. We are also in talks with various groups and Associations to build a world-class football stadium.
Harmit :Please tell us a little about your squad? How many players do you have in total this season and how many are professionals versus amateurs or semi-professionals?
Sahil: Our team consists of players mainly from Punjab, Haryana and neighbouring areas selected firmly on the basis of their talents, fitness levels and past achievements.
We have a squad of a total of 32 members consisting of 8 professionals, 10 semi-professionals and 14 amateurs.
Harmit :Are there any special efforts to unearth talent from Delhi? Please tell us more about the training centres that your club is running across the city. How many trainees are benefiting from this, their age range, frequency of training and what kind of training skills due you impart.
Sahil: Shastri FC has started a unique scholarship training programme in all its centers within which young children of all age groups are being offered special scholarships based on their talents to encourage them to continue playing the sport and enhance their talents. These children are also made to play frequently against outside teams and their performance is strictly noted and a feedback is given timely. The best students will also be given a chance to done the colours of Shastri FC in seasons Delhi League and with time the entire squad of Shastri FC will be made up of these elite students.
Currently, we are running 7 training centres across NCR which hope to give good results within the next two years. More than 900 trainees have benefited from our programme so far. Right now, there are a total of 280 children between the age group of 5-16 years training at these centers. Our centers operate on a 3-day/week basis and each session lasts for 90 mins. Each center is handled by a fully qualified and certified coach following a pre-planned programme designed by our Chief Technical Advisor Mr. G.D. Malhotra. Our training is administered at 3 levels viz beginner, intermediate and professional.
Harmit :Please tell us a little about the fan base? How many fans show up to see a game, does the club appeal to any specific kinds of fans and what efforts is the club making any to develop and grow its fan base?
Sahil: We call our supporters as the red brigade. Our fan base consists of all the children, who are and were associated with our academies, their parents, and all the people who share our vision and ideologies which together form a movement we call as the Red Revolution. Through our efforts we aim to touch the hearts of millions of people and within 5-7 years will make Shastri FC the no.1 club of India.
Harmit : Please tell us about the officials that manage the club? What is the organizational structure like and how many of these officials are paid officials versus officials just holding honorary posts?
Sahil: I am very fortunate to have with me a team of highly motivated and dedicated members with a sole aim to revolutionise the game in India. We all are engineers from different fields who met in college and were really crazy about football. So it all started from there and we decided to take this step. My younger brother, Salil a pilot by profession has also joined me in this mission sacrificing his flying career. We all share the same passion for the game and are extremely determined to change the face of football in India.
Harmit : Does the Delhi Soccer Association provide any monetary compensation of any kind to the teams playing in the Delhi League? How do the teams in the Delhi League afford to pay the players and support staff?
Sahil: Well I am not aware of any compensation if any provided by DSA to the teams playing in the Delhi League. Some of the teams have sponsors associated with them which help offset some of the expenses while others manage to cover the expenses through memberships, societies or their own pockets.
Harmit : Without the Delhi League being shown on TV, played under flood lights and marketed properly, do you think there is a real possibility of the standard of football in Delhi moving forward?
Sahil: I feel the Delhi League is a great tournament where you get to see high quality football and great players like Chetri and Mathani have been part of it. The media have a key role to play here by highlighting the tournament and its players as this proves to be a great source of motivation for them to continue playing and make people realize that other games are equally entertaining. For football to develop in Delhi or India, it is essential for the game that it be marketed properly. Also, big companies and corporates should assist in developing the game by providing sponsorships and rewards to deserving players.
Harmit : Why do you think that the young urban Indians are more interested in European Leagues and not the local leagues? What is that the State Associations are not doing right?
Sahil: The money and glamour of the European Leagues guarantees a world-wide audience. Having such Leagues in India is not impossible if you see the amount of money being poured into cricket, especially the IPL.
It can be done in football too if the State Associations take up the responsibility to attract investors and make the game big.
Harmit : Delhi used to have real affection for football at one time (especially old Delhi). What happened and how did the love for football die out?
Sahil: Well, the love has not died out but has certainly diminished. We would do everything in our capacity to reignite this passion in people and with assistance from you and other e-media we will be successful to give the game what it deserves.
Harmit : The National Team has created new interest in Indian Football in Delhi. Has it had any effect for Delhi football?
Sahil: The recent success of the team in the AFC Cup, Nehru Cup and then in SAFF games have brought the game back to limelight. Also, it has seen the rising of 23-year old Sunil Chetri as a star player from Delhi. So, Delhi has definitely benefited from this and people have begun to flock the stadiums again so it is good news.
Harmit :In the last few years, what extra-ordinary measures has the DSA or Shastri FC taken to take football in Delhi to the next level.
Sahil: We want to make people realize that football though just a game can teach many more things like co-operation, team work, discipline, friendship which are essential qualities for a person to be successful in life. At our academies we try to imbibe these qualities in children and increase awareness of the benefits of the game among people.
Many thanks for taking the time and talking to us.