Of JCT’s demise and the dominion of doom in Indian Football.

JCT crest

Phagwara based football club JCT FC(prev. JCT Mills), for long the face of football in the Northern parts of India, was disbanded yesterday, confirming rumours that had been going around the Indian footballing circles for the past few weeks. The news  landed a bitter blow on the face of Indian Football and the trend is worrying, for two India’s leading clubs JCT and Mahindra United have both disbanded within the last one year citing a lack of popularity of the domestic clubs and televsion coverage of football in the country.

JCT, winners of the inaugaral National Football League(now the I-League) in the 1996-97 season, have been home to some of India’s leading stars- Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri, I.M. Vijayan, Renedy Singh and Jo-Paul Ancheri amongst others. JCT had for long  been fighting a lone battle to increase football popularity in these parts of the country and give the people up north their go-to club, becoming the first non-Kolkata club to win the IFA Shield in the process along with that inaugaral NFL title. Despite the flourish that they once had, the last couple of years for them had been much less successful, often been dogged by debts and insufficient finances. The team’s relegation in the last I-League season acted as the final nail in the coffin, pulling them beyond the point of no return resulting in the club’s professional football team being disbanded, though their works at the grass roots and their much famed youth academy would still function.

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 corporates and their brands, besides bringing up popularity of football among youngsters.

 JCT Limited being a corporate, needs to justify to its stakeholders the effort vs visibility of the football team. 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 Football 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’s football team was formed in 1971 and since then JCT has worked hard and invested in working at grass-root level in Punjab and building a top class team.

Mr. Samir Thapar, as president of Punjab Football Association, will continue to work with passion for strengthening the sport of football at grass-root level in Punjab and also through JCT Football Academy continue to find and train youngsters for tomorrow as the academy has been grooming champions for JCT and almost all football clubs of Indian football.

-(JCT’s Press Release)

The club’s disbanding would come as a bitter blow to many Indian football fans as the club was also home to one of India’s best football academies that would nurture young, aspiring footballers from all parts of North India and beyond, even paying the expenses of education of these young kids during their time at the academy, just in case they fail to go professional in the sport. And while the youth academy would still be functioning, as a part of their vision to improve the sport at the ‘grassroots’ level, how many young footballers would actually manage to enroll themselves into the academy knowing there maybe no future professional outfit that could absorb them in, is still anybody’s guess.

And with JCT’s pullout, there would no longer be a club from the North of India, for the first time since the dawn of the NFL(and the subsequent I-League) nearly 15 yeras ago. This after the Delhi based Indian Arrows, comprising of Indian U23 players, as a part of AIFF’s commercialization drive was moved to Kolkata. What this intrinsically does is polarize the Indian footballing map in its entireity, with Bengal and Goa accounting for more than half the team’s in the league, and the figure could further increase, should Viva Kerela’s rumoured move to Kolkata/Bengal materialize. The untapped potential in other parts of the country has gone largely unnoticed and with no football clubs in such large regions of India, expecting people to get involved with football would be imbecelic.

And while it might be easier to pass on the commiserations to the erstwhile-JCT club and their fans, what must be done is to look at what has caused the demise of two of India’s leading clubs. Despite AIFF recently signing a deal with IMG-Reliance worth $155million to ‘radically restructure, overhaul, improve, popularize and promote the game of football throughout India, from the grassroots to the professional level’, much is still to change with AIFF still searching alternatives to broadcast next season’s I-League, one of the reason’s that led to JCT’s disbanding, lack of proper TV coverage which eventually encapsulates into a bigger problem, consigning clubs like JCT into regional entities with little or no support outside their native areas.

Even based purely on finances, running a professional football clubs and their associated football academies is a rather arduous task financially. Even by the most modest of estimates, most I-League clubs end up spending about 5-8 crores to run their professional team, while the most they might earn even by winning the country’s premier competiton- the I-League is a sum of Rs. 50lacs. Other cup competitons in India, the Durand Cup and the IFA Shield, have prize money to the tune of Rs. 5-10 lacs each. No wonder then that some Indian clubs have been reeling under monetary deficits lately.

“It’s just because of my family that I’m running the club. We spend around Rs 10-11 crore every year. The prize money we get is not enough to provide breakfast for the players round the year.”

 Joaquim Alemao, Chairman of Churchill Brothers,Goa. 

And while you might counter that most clubs around the world do earn less in prize money than what they end up spending for the club’s day-to-day functioning, the fact is that the TV money, sale of stadium tickets and even big transfer money does help them balance the books. In stark contrast though are these clubs running in India who hardly have any money made available to them from television revenues and even the revenues that they may make out of ticket sales would be flushed away as stadium rent for many a clubs in India.

Not surprising really then that football in India has seen its second catastrophe in little over a year and should the trend not be buckled, you might well see more such teams pull out due to a lack of profitablity and little or no television coverage to football matches in India. JCT, and before that Mahindra United, have fallen victim to this vicious circle of doom, its time now that the AIFF wakes up from its slumber and does something to buckle the trend real quick and hopefully our parts of north India do get a football team of its own soon enough to feel associated with. Until then, we’d still be reminiscing the moments of glory of that JCT brought about. And finally, thanks for all the good things that you have done JCT!

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