Passion is a word that dresses any body and is therefore relative. Passion varies from food ; to clothing ; to travelling; to writing ; to sports ; or to anything that brings the best out of a person. And, that is best defined by happiness.
Passion is a term widely related to sports. Many people take to a sport because they have a passion to a sport. Many are born with a passion for sports and sometimes passion is nurtured. Whatever, the process, passion is an emotion difficult to understand but easily distinguishable.
Football is one sport that has been run with passion in Goa and that passion showed itself in players; in officials and was therefore lapped up by the public then and is still – to an extent- even now. Passion is an emotion and therefore difficult to record.
Through years, passion in football can be found recorded in the living words of Panvel Sports Club. My induction in football was in the years Dempo SC, Salgaocar SC, Sesa Goa and Vasco SC were sharing the slices of the game amongst themselves. Yet, in those days, these teams were always compared to the manner Panvel SC played. The comparisons were frequent until I was one day I was told that Panvel SC no more existed.
So, began the search for the history of a club that was widely spoken about but little recorded and the search ended after meeting Antonio Bothelo. For new comers, Botelho is the Google of football in Goa. He wrote football; he spotted footballers; he administered football in Goa; and he managed Panvel SC which won the Bandodkar Gold Trophy, a trophy accessible to the best clubs in those days. Bothelo rewrote, ‘David and Goliath’ with a football and hundreds of young boys from villages of Goa.
Panvel SC was a club with no money but talent from all over the State. Most boys could not be paid. If anything, some were paid travelling allowance. Shoes and jerseys were scrambled together and sometimes even shared. Few players came for practices but when they played, they made all notice and soon many ended as best players not only in Goa but India. “I ran the team on my wages I got as Sports sub editor of The Navhind Times,” recollects Bothelo.
“An individual’s passion for football or for that matter any other pursuit, can be varied and different. For me, as a former football administrator it meant trying to envision and provide for the future whilst still organising competitions within existing possibilities and budgets. Next, as the Panvel team “facilitator”, it meant keeping eyes and ears open for hidden talents. And as a fan it meant supporting my chosen team through demotions and promotions – not only when it won big matches,” explains Bothelo still enjoying football in his seventieth year.
Panvel SC landed on the laps of Botelho by accident. As a youngster, he had gone to the Goa Football Association office to try and revive an old club called Academica. Instead, he found himself being handed over the reins of Panvel and there began a story of passion for football because the club became the cradle to some of the best football talent inthose years.
Dempo SC, Salgaocar SC, Sesa Goa and Vasco SC were the moneyed football power houses of those years in Goa and so were teams like Orkay, Tata, Railways and Mahindra in Bombay and all roped in players who started their football careers with Panvel SC. Those who did not make it big in football climbed societal ladders through jobs abroad or even through politics.
Goa’s first Arjuna award winner , Brahmanand Sancoalcar, was spotted and given his football boots by Panvel SC. So was Francis D’Souza who ended being the first player from Goa to play in Kolkata; Former Chief Minister Francisco Sardinha played as defender for Panvel before taking a plunge in politics and so did former Speaker like Tomazinho Cardozo and present Canacona MLA Isidore Fernandes.
Panvel created history by being the only club to win the Bandodkar Gold Trophy on April 6 , 1974. Before and after that, the Gold trophy was a trophy that was the pride of clubs that could afford to pay for the best players and Panvel was a club that had the best players and no money to pay them. But, they had passion.
“ After Alex Miranda had scored the second goal, I just knew Panvel had won. By the time of the final whistle, that joy had actually diminished. For the few genuine supporters Panvel had, it was a memorable evening. The team was driven in a “tempo” accompanied by motorcycles via Ponda to Sao Pedro, Ribandar and then Miramar. “Bachico” Branco organised dinner at Clube Tennis de Gaspar Dias. And I don’t remember how but the team ended up in Dona Paula minus the supporters and the “tempo”, where we all sat out the night passing the replica around and waiting for the first bus in the morning to go home…” recollects Botelho.
After having won the Bandodkar Gold Cup, Panvel SC was invited for the Rovers cup in Bombay where the team finished in the quarterfinals. The enthusiasm was still there to keep the flag flying but with no finances it became difficult to keep the best players together and even new players were picked up by bigger clubs because Panvel started growing as an explosive cradle of football talent.
“I used to come to play football dreading that my mother would read in the Marathi paper that I had gone to play. My mother always believed I had gone to the library to study. I was a good student but I had the passion for football. I finally took up a job as engineer in PWD and I have no regrets because I get a fat pension today,” admits Gajanan Zingde former Panvel SC goalkeeper who retired as Executive Engineer of PWD.
Interestingly , the first ten players of Panvel SC that won the Bandodkar Gold Trophy were from ten different villages of Goa and the eleventh was a boy from Manipur who happened to be the son of the then Chief Secretary of Goa.
“I used to play for my school when one day I was approached and asked to come to play for a team in Panaji. My father had passed away and there was no one to support my mother. But I could not resist the urge and play for a big club. So, I used to quietly take a bus (from Bicholim) and go for games. My transport used to be paid for but by the time I was eighteen I had to stop and start working. I got a license and became a driver,’ says Gajanan Mandrekar former midfielder from Bicholim.
Apart from his early love for football, Botelho worked for three companies in Goa – Bandekar, Goa Bottling and Goa Carbon. He was secretary of Dempo SC from 1996 till 2002 and has been following football on television or watching the under- age tournaments in North Goa during his free time.
On April 6, 2019 Panvel SC will be completing 45 years of winning the Bandodkar Gold Trophy and Botelho has decided to get together all the former players and people involved with the club for a reunion.
“In June 2018 I met two former players whom I had not met in over a decade. It became obvious we hadn’t met some others for up to forty years. I started a WhatsApp group with contacts I had. Next Gajanan Zingde contacted me to ask if I had any team photos, which I did not. Two visits to Levino Dias, one of the senior-most Panvel players, followed. In October 2018 some of us met and decided to have a Reunion for all players,” admits Bothelo.
Leafing through sketches of football in Goa, it is clear that football is a beautiful game because it is a game of the poor- a game accessible to all. And, that passion is best enjoyed when the stakes are minimal. If football brings happiness it is because happiness has no price and this was best embodied by Panvel SC from 1965-66 to 1976-77.
Many of us must have missed that sip of happiness but the flavour still lingers on in the minds of those who have left happy memories in those who were lucky to have been able to watch them play. The reunion on April 6, 2019 will help those memories linger on for a long, long more time!