Goa, the state located in West India is primarily known for beaches, sunshine and tourism; football does not seem to be a priority, at least from the outside. The former Portuguese colony is the smallest Indian state by area and fourth smallest by population and it boasts India’s highest GDP per head, essentially making it the wealthiest area in the country. Based on some of these facts, one might find it easy to make assumptions on the state’s consumption of football. After all, we are talking about the country that worships cricket more than anything else, or so it seems.
However, Goa’s story is a bit different. Partially due to its Portuguese heritage, football is the state’s most popular sport by far and along with Kerala and West Bengal, Goa can be regarded as India’s football hotspot. As such, it is not surprising that three out of the 11 clubs playing in India’s I-League, the country’s top division, are from the West Indian state. Dempo, Salgaocar and Sporting Goa are proud representative’s of Goa’s football treasure and with the addition of the Indian Super League, FC Goa have been added to the football schedule of locals.
Goan teams play their home games at Fatorda Stadium, which is owned and operated by the Sports Authority of Goa. Built in 1989, the arena offers space for 19,800 supporters, most of whom are incredibly passionate about their support. The popularity of football in Goa became particularly evident in the inaugural season of the Indian Super League, during which FC Goa enjoyed an average attendance of 18,066. The fans managed to drive the club into the competition’s semi-final, where they lost to eventual winners Atletico de Kerala after an intense penalty shoot-out that followed two 0-0 draws.
Indeed, Goa was one of the success stories of India’s new approach to football. FC Goa had the longest winning run (4 games), the longest unbeaten run (10 games), the biggest away win (4-1 at Delhi), the best goal difference (+9) and, in Jan Seda, the best goalkeeper of the competition. Some may argue that Goa were very unlucky against Kolkata and were unfortunate to not reach the finals and have a shot at winning the ISL. Nevertheless, during the first edition of the competition, the club sent a clear statement of intent and it would not be surprising if they were to make it all the way next season.
Part of Goa’s success was due to chief coach Zico, who seems to have loved his Indian football experience and is intending to return for next season’s edition of the ISL. The Brazilian legend, often referred to as the ‘White Pele’, has an illustrious past, primarily as a player. Having been voted World Footballer of the Year on two occasions, as well as having managed football teams in no fewer than 9 countries, Zico benefits from both significant experience in football but also in relation to managing cultural differences. Given Goa’s colonial past, the Brazilian seemingly feels at home in India’s west. Zico has a point to prove and although not officially confirmed yet, he will get the chance to take FC Goa all the way next season.
In the meantime, the I-League is edging towards the end of the current season, with Goan clubs struggling for form. Despite this, Saturday’s Goan derby between Salgoacar and Dempo promises to be a spicy affair, with Dempo dangerously close to the drop-zone. A loss and Dempo would have to rely on Mumbai not losing its home game against bottom-of-the-table Bharat FC. At the other end of the table, the I-League managed to keep it just as exciting, with top-of-the-table Mohun Bagan having to travel to Bengaluru for Sunday night’s crunch time final, with a draw enough to secure the title.
Whatever the case might be, the future looks bright for Indian football and the state of Goa is at the heart of excitement and progress. There is genuine hope for FC Goa to lift the ISL title in 2015 and the likes of Sporting Goa will have to hope for a better season in the I-League in 2016. In any case, the passionate supporters of Goa will be there when it matters most. We believe that FC Goa, as well as the general football scene in the state is a giant in waiting and we will have to watch the space over the next few years, as there is much more to come.