#HTPuneyourspace: Why grassroots football in Pune is running off-side
It’s crunch time for football in Pune. While FC Pune City is bankrupt, the Poona District Football Association is being accused of gross mismanagement. Our readers tell us the best way forward to ensure that the game continues to grow at the local level..Updated: Apr 28, 2019 16:32 IST
Hindustan Times, Pune
There is absolutely no dearth of talented football players in Pune, be it at the school, college or district level. However, these talented players often get unnoticed as there is no plan in place to nurture and harness their talent. The blame lies at many levels, starting right from top-level management. There has been no change in the administration that is heading the Pune District Football Association (PDFA) and no fair elections are held. The same administration has been heading the association since decades. Why can’t they be replaced with new faces and ideas? Due to this the entire football body is being affected; clubs and players right from the super league to the lower divisions are agitated by the mismanagement, partial favouring and gross violations by the management.
There seems to be no plan ready for club and player participation and well-being. No steps are taken for promotion of the sport. Infrastructure is shoddy and outdated. Our grounds are death traps. Compare our ground situation with the North-East, Bengaluru or even smaller cities like Jalandhar or Jamshedpur. PDFA will be seen as an administration from the Stone Age era.
What can be done? Pune is blessed with strong corporates all around, who should be included in planning and upright personnel should be given key positions in decision making for future plans right from the school level. Money should be raised by corporate social responsibility.
Include retired players in policy making decisions. Respect talent and be impartial in selections. Spend money on infrastructure and construct more common training grounds at key locations in Pune. Start school-level scholarships to promote the game, encourage participation of women. Have fair elections, with short 2-3 year tenures. Hope should never be lost. Our city is entirely capable of being a football powerhouse.
Neglect of school-level football
The standard of football has only dropped in Pune. When I started playing club football in 1996 in Pune District Football Association (PDFA), we used to have two tournaments every month. Now it’s come down to two or three tournaments in a year. PDFA is run by a bunch of people who are there only for power and not for development of football in the city. Football Club (FC) Pune City pulled out their u-18 team from PDFA and registered it in Mumbai District Football Association (MDFA) as the standard of football is better in Mumbai. There is an immense talent in Pune, but people are not willing to come together and give these budding talented players the right platform. We are trying hard to change it and we strongly believe that we will succeed in changing the football scenario in Pune soon.
There is no focus on grassroots level football in Pune. The condition of grounds is pathetic when the zilla parishad (ZP) matches are conducted in Pune. If we have to improve the football scenario in Pune, we must improve infrastructure and playing conditions for school-level football. School kids should get more opportunities to play matches so that they can improve on their skills.
Need more leagues for young players
To develop football in Pune there should be more matches for youngsters of all age groups and we should also introduce baby leagues to give exposure to kids so that they start playing from an early age. Conducting workshops for referees is also very important to upgrade their skill set and know-how. I also think that all academies should come forward to help the Pune District Football Association (PDFA) to provide good infrastructure for matches and help in the organisation of the youth leagues.
We will soon have a player in the national team
The level of football in Pune has risen leaps and bounds. When we started the Pune District Football Association (PDFA) in the city in the early 90s, we only had 25-30 teams. Today, we have 152 teams. Even the quality of football has skyrocketed. Our district teams are beating the top teams at different age groups and making it to the semis and finals. Previously our teams used to come back packing after the first few rounds.
I have also noticed that a number of our kids are being picked for national camps and they are improving on the physical aspect related to the game. I feel Pune will soon have a player in the national team because the talent here is exceptional. A lot of players are playing at different levels and you can see they are enjoying the game. A number of organisers are also now approaching us to conduct tournaments and are asking us to lend them referees. It is a good system that we are following and I think this is the right way to develop the sport.
Provide a stage to showcase young talent
Whether we blame the authorities for mismanagement or lack of infrastructure and bad quality coaching, it all adds-up to the declining level of interest among the football enthusiasts. Certainly, the sport needs to be taken seriously at the grassroots level wherein, aspiring players should be provided training on full-sized grounds than only 5 or 6-a-side turf grounds. Proper selection of players from schools should be done regularly. The football association must concentrate on giving proper coaching, fitness regime and a proper diet. There is no doubt about talented football players in the city, but it is a question of what use they would put it to, if they are not provided a stage to showcase it.
Need a fresh approach from new minds
Football has definitely lost the positivity from the time when Pune FC was dominating the space with budding clubs like DSK Shivajians. What has followed has been nothing short of dismal for the football scenario in the city. FC Pune City unfortunately never had the same connect, as building a base requires year-long activities. The issues at grassroots level have persisted for many years and need a fresh approach from fresh minds. It requires clubs and the association to focus with a long-term plan on giving youth a chance to rise to the highest level. With current short-term planning, the city shall continue languishing with no real connect to its football teams. With multiple other sporting avenues available to Punekars, football will continue to stay neglected unless real changes are implemented in the system.
PDFA should look beyond its conventional ways
The Pune District Football Association (PDFA) has been shooting itself in the foot for years now. Quite recently, they were in the news for being accused of mismanagement by five city clubs. A couple of years back, an operations person from one of the teams said that they felt Pune was the wrong city to be born in if you were passionate about football, the reasons being lack of motivation, no fan base and no significant grassroots awareness. It is high time that the PDFA looks beyond its conventional stagnant ways and focus on grassroots programmes and frequent skill workshops for budding players and referees. If that is not done, football in Pune is bound to be extinct.
FC Pune City might lose fans if they move out
The Inter-school tournament happening across the city provides opportunities for players to showcase their talent and play for local clubs. From 2007, teams like Pune FC and FC Pune City also gave a chance to football lovers to root for their home team. Even after Pune FC quit the I league, the supporters had FC Pune City. There is even a group called Orange Army who are ardent supporters of FC Pune City. They have even extended the coach’s contract by another two years. If the team management now decides to move out of Pune, they will definitely lose a massive number of supporters. This will also be not seen a good sign for football culture of the city.
PDFA has been accused of mismanagement. This is a serious matter. The management needs to come together and voice their concerns jointly. Pune has everything including facilities, teams, coaching that is required for football. Maybe it is high time now for these local teams to step up and do something for their own bright future.
First Published: Apr 28, 2019 16:19 IST