Don’t blame FC Goa supporters for feeling like they are having to pay for the sins of others.
Goa is one of the few states where football outscores cricket in popularity. In 2012, then chief minister Manohar Parrikar quoted former Liverpool coach Bill Shankly and allotted Rs 5 crore for football’s development. Yet, despite clubs such as Dempo, Salgaocar, Churchill Brothers, Sporting Clube de Goa and Vasco being in the domestic circuit for long, none has generated the kind of interest like FC Goa.
Visit Goa during the Indian Super League (ISL) and you will see a state draped in team colours. In two seasons the demand for tickets — from ministers of the church to ministers in the state cabinet — have far outstripped supply.
Two days before last year’s ill-fated final, an FC Goa training session at Tilak Maidan in Vasco had so many people watching that coach Zico made the squad bow to it after the session ended. The gesture got thunderous applause and the former Brazilian ball wizard was visibly moved.
Fans of such a team would feel done in should FC Goa start on -15 points. Ditto players and the coaching staff. And it would make FC Goa’s chance of qualifying for the semi-finals very, very difficult.
In a league where teams can log a maximum of 42 points in 14 rounds, being docked more than one-third before kick-off would be like asking four-year-olds to compete with adults. In 2006, after being implicated in match-fixing, Juventus were docked 30 points and demoted. It was reduced to 17 on appeal for a competition where each team played 42 games.
No wonder then that Bhaichung Bhutia hoped FC Goa’s punishment would be reduced on appeal. Should it stay at -15, ISL3 would effectively be a seven-team affair with FC Goa being pace-setters at best.
In such a situation, which footballer, given the choice, would want to turn out for them? Remember, a number of players left Juventus after they were demoted. And would Zico, who so far has been open to the idea of returning for season 3, want to helm them?
So, it fits that FC Goa have not yet signed any footballer barring Keenan Almeida, Prathesh Shirodhkar and Debabrata Roy who are already on their rolls. They are waiting to see how this ends.
The ISL has sparked the kind of interest in Indian football few expected. Turnouts have increased and even when Chennai, more known for chess and cricket, was ravaged by floods 12000 watched the Chennaiyin FC-Mumbai City FC game. The average attendance for ISL 2 in Chennai was 23,000.
Such turnouts go a long way in forging a football culture which is the first step to developing the sport. Look no farther than China for that. FC Goa needed to be made an example of but in doing so the ISL should also ensure that it doesn’t hobble a nascent competition perhaps in the last edition before it merges with the I-League.