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The changing face of Delhi football

For Garhwal Heroes, the long wait is over. They had won their first Delhi Soccer association league title way back in 1986 beating Youngsters FC 1-0 in the final at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium. Now 27 years later, Garhwal Heroes, one of the last community based clubs in the capital, befittingly won the DLF-ONGC Delhi Soccer Association (DSA) senior division league championships 2012-13, beating newcomers Goodwill FC 1-0 in the final.

The victorious Garhwal FC squad

The victorious Garhwal FC squad

They were coached by one of the best Garhwali players the capital has produced, midfielder Sukhpal Singh Bisht, who was captain of once redoubtable Border Security Force (BSF), when they won the 1979 Federation Cup. Sukhpal Bisht has also coached the Delhi state team in the Santosh trophy. His assistant was Ravi Rana, also a former Delhi state midfielder.

In the time span of nearly three decades, there have been several changes in Delhi football, which are reflected in the differences between the Garhwal Heroes team that won the DSA League title in 1986 and 2013. In 1986, it consisted only of local players. The club was an outlet to promote talent amongst Garhwali youth in the capital. Now the team relied on three Nigerian recruits. Skipper Bala Alhassan Dahir and the 6ft 4inch defender Francis Egware have been with Garhwal Heroes for three years. Nippy striker Joseph Camara, who scored the match winner in the final, joined them this year. The foreign recruits are kept in a flat and paid monthly.

Local players were also recruited wisely. Experienced state custodian Rajat Guha was a reliable goalkeeper. Their rock-solid defence included Delhi state players such as right back Yogesh Prasad (chosen best defender of the 2013 DSA league), stopper back Inderjit Sharma and left back Deepak Kumar. Midfielder Nirmaldeep represented Delhi in the 66th Santosh trophy in Orissa in May 2012.

Such a star-studded team costs money and Garhwal Heroes officials worked tirelessly to procure sponsorship. Their annual budget is about Rs. 20 lakhs. Hence, they needed a sponsor and managed to get a generous allowance from Indian Oil Corporation (IOC). They are now known as IOC-Garhwal Heroes. In 1986, the Garhwal Heroes officials had just arranged free kits, refreshments and a travel allowance for their victorious squad. Now embryonic professionalism is creeping into Delhi football and local players do not represent a club just for the sake of honour or locality/regional loyalty.

In 1986, the DSA league winners and runners up got attractive prizes and track suits. This year, the DSA distributed Rs. 3, 75,000 in prize money to the winners and runners up of the Senior Division league, A division, B Division and the inaugural women’s league in which five teams participated. For this, the credit goes to the DSA President and local MLA Subash Chopra – who used his good relations with DLF Executive Director Rajiv Talwar to get ample sponsorship for the local leagues. DSA secretary S. Shaheen and league convener Narender Bhatia also deserve plaudits for starting a women’s league. Next year, they are trying to persuade some of Delhi’s leading clubs to start women’s teams and expand the game amongst school and college girls. Hindustan FC has already started a women’s football team. If this move succeeds, the DSA will have set a new trend in Indian football. Jaguar Eves, sponsored by the JFC Sports and Management Pvt. Ltd, are the winners of the of the inaugural  women’s league in Delhi.

The transfer market in Delhi football has changed massively in the last three decades. Till the early 1980s, loyalty and commitment to a club was the hallmark of Delhi’s football culture. Except for transport allowance, kits and refreshments, there was no payment to the players. However, club officials would strive to get their top players jobs in leading public sectors like Delhi Audit, Northern Railway, State Bank of India, Central Secretariat, Delhi Electric Supply Undertaking (DESU), Food Corporation of India (FCI) and so on. A competitive, institutional league was also held annually.

Indian Nationals was the first Delhi club to offer payment to players in the early 1960s, followed by Young Men, financed by Bundu and Gama Qureishi – leading mutton exporters and butchers of Old Delhi. For many decades, the money culture did not enter Delhi football as the top players all got reasonable jobs and club loyalty was considered a virtue. In the 1960s, all the players of the popular City Club (champions in 1960, 1963 and 1964) stayed in nearby localities in the Walled City Area. So the club became an extension of local pride. When City Club overcame their Walled city rivals Indian Nationals 6-3 in a memorable match in the 1964 league, their supporters were jubilant. Outside right Aziz Qureishi, the hero of that triumph, was given free glasses of milk by happy supporters for the rest of the year and for a fortnight after the match, the team was invited for sumptuous Dawats (feasts) by delirious City Club fans.

Similarly, the players of President’s Estate, local league champions in 1966 and 1967 and runners up in 1964, were mostly from the sprawling residential complex of Rashtrapati Bhavan. During their years of success, President’s Estate’ star players, centre forward Pyare Lal, with his Elvis Presley hair style, Sri Prasad, Chaman Lal and defenders Gyan and Lufte Ali were like folk heroes in the locality.

Raisina Sporting, local league champions in 1961 and 1962, was the pride of the local Bengali population in the Capital. Many of their players came from Government colonies near Rouse Avenue, Gole Market and R.K. Puram and were household names. Bustling striker Shanker Mukherjee became a local Bengali hero when he was selected to join renowned Mafatlal Mills, Bombay in 1967 and helped them win the DCM tournament that year and in 1968. In the 1967 DCM semi final, after he scored the match winner against BSF by curling in a corner kick, he received several marriage proposals.

In the Walled City area, there were several clubs that thrived on local support. Many of these clubs are now struggling or defunct in this era of nascent professionalism and sponsorship. Usmania and Young India are now defunct. Ajmal FC, Collegians, Mughals FC (league champions in 1995 and Students FC (league champions in 1991) are now lower division clubs. Indian Nationals, league champions in 1999, 2000 and 2008, were relegated and got promoted to the senior division this season. Established teams like City Club, Shastri FC, Moonlight and Young Men are struggling in the senior division as they lack money power.

This inability to procure sponsorship and lack of playing space in the capital has affected other clubs also. The once-mighty President’s Estate and Modernites are now defunct. The once-famous Raisina Sporting, Union FC, BB Stars, Young Bengal Association, Frontier and Goan Sports club (developed football talent amongst local Goans) are now struggling to survive. The old order has given way to the new as money has come into Delhi football.

This trend started in the late 1970s when the player’s demands started increasing as prices escalated. But still, the amateur ethos prevailed and the money offered for a season was a pittance. At the turn of the 1980s, stalwart central defender Bhim left Simla Youngs for City Club for a colour TV. Another renowned defender, Aslam, shifted from Delhi Cantonment to Indian Nationals for Rs. 2,500 for the season.

The semblance of big money first came into Delhi football with the advent of South India FC. Their owner Vijay Bhaskar was the poor man’s Roman Abramovich. He pumped money into the club and sent the transfer market soaring. From 1993 to 1995, Vijay Bhaskar built powerful and expensively assembled squads. They became DSA league champions in 1993 beating Simla Youngs in the final. The South India players were paid in the region of Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 35,000 for the season. Before Vijay Bhaskar came on the scene, the highest paid player in Delhi football would get about Rs. 10,000 per season. However, his generosity was short-lived. As Vijay Bhaskar’s business slumped, his interest in local club football declined. By the end of the 1990s, South India were on the decline and now are a defunct club. However, they set the trend for big money in Delhi football.

In the last fifteen years, the prices of players have escalated rapidly. In the 1997 season, striker Bhupinder Rawat was reportedly paid Rs. 30,000 for moving from Shastri FC to Hindustan FC. Another striker, Dharmender Kharola, got the same amount for shifting from Young Men to Indian Nationals. The total budget for the top clubs in the late nineties was about Rs. 4-5 lakhs. This was a major increase from the last decade when teams were assembled with budgets of Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 1 lakh.

Delhi United is one of the most expensive squads in the capital city

Delhi United is one of the most expensive squads in the capital city

The overall budget of local football clubs is increasing annually in the 21st century. The most expensive team this season is ISS Delhi United, which cost an estimated Rs. 40-45 lakhs to assemble. All the senior division clubs have procured sponsorship to survive. Runners up in the recent DSA League were VVIP Goodwill FC and the losing semi finalists were G Pride Veterans FC and ISS Delhi United. Expenses of all clubs have increased as they recruit foreigners (mostly Africans) and outstation players as well. Their boarding and lodging expenses are considerable.

Clubs which have procured sponsorship would like a longer season, so that their sponsors get ample exposure. It is imperative that the AIFF start makes the B-Division into a regional competition, so that club football can flourish in several states of India.

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