Arrigo Sacchi is right, football probably is the most important of all unimportant things in the world, or at least this team in Goa believes it to be. Thrice a week, this team gets together, leaving the world behind and doing what they love most: playing football. There are a lot of teams around India and around Goa, but this team is unique. They are unique because of their spirit. They are unique because of their affection to the game. And most importantly, they are unique because of their age. This is Senior Citizens FC, a team comprising of Goa’s wonderful over-65s, who have not let a number deter their passion towards the beautiful game.
Senior Citizens FC was formed two years back and this is an initiative unlike any other in India. While there are teams like this is countries where football is more prominent such as England, Australia and Germany, this team is one of a kind in India. Around the country, people at this age mostly come around for a kick-a-bout in a park or a beach but having full-fledged practices and actually having them mean something is found nowhere else, and it comes as no surprise that the first initiative came from Goa – a place where football is more than just a hobby. Watching them play is heartening, and for the players themselves, it adds more joy to their days.
There is, however, just one tiny condition to join the club. All players that enroll must have played football at a reasonable level, however, that isn’t much of a concern. In a state that loves football, finding players that have played at a “reasonable” level isn’t difficult because everyone has, so Senior Citizens FC ranges from former footballers themselves to retired police officers to doctors and beyond. Currently, the club has 20 members, and leading them is Salvador “Salu” Fernandes, an ex-Sesa player who helps out with coaching the players. They train thrice a week at the Campal Ground in Panjim, and they are an enlightening group.
In addition to Fernandes, there is a whole host of players who have professional backgrounds in football. Several of the players have participated in the top tiers of Indian football, and they are now continuing their lives in football, doing what they do best. The list of members the club currently has includes Anthony Baretto, a former Air India player, Eustacio Pereira who represented Dempo Sports Club at one point, Alexio Bernard Simoes who played at Fernandes’ club, Sesa, Bosco Monteiro and more. Also, they have Brahmanand Shankhwalkar, a former national team captain and Arjuna Award recipient – one of India’s highest sporting honours. Together, they bring a fair amount of competitiveness and flair to the football they play, however, there are certain problems the club faces.
Being the only club consisting of senior citizens, they face a lack of external competition. At times, they have to play younger opposition – those around the age of 50 – to test their skills, but that often turns out to be unfair. They even came up against two select under-15 teams from around the state and gave the younger players an adequate fight. There is no team like them in the region and an even bigger problem is that there is no one that can match them from around the country. Senior Citizens FC are a group of pioneers and an inspiration for the older folks in Goa and across the whole of India. The club hopes there can be more for them to play against in the near future.
The passion towards football runs high and they want to instil this determination in a state that has seen football fade over the last few years. Goa has been one of the most prominent regions for Indian football, but for various reasons ranging from inadequate funding to lack of practice grounds, recent years have seen Goans take football less seriously. The members of Senior Citizens FC aim to change that, using the example of their age and backgrounds to instil the same sort of hunger in the younger footballers around Goa. When talking to the Times of India, the coach, Salvador Fernandes, says his team has set an exemplary example.
“Getting older does not mean you have to stop playing football. We want to set an example to the youngsters; if we can continue playing at this age, there is nothing that should stop them.” – Salvador Fernandes
The story of Senior Citizens FC brings the great Eric Cantona’s piece for The Players’ Tribune to mind where he talks about the meaning of football and its synonymity with life as a whole. Towards the end of his moving story, Cantona talks about how football brings freedom and all the benefits that come along with it and even insinuates how the modern world has, to an extent, ruined the beautiful game. Senior Citizens FC don’t get any financial reward for their efforts, nor do they have any sponsors backing them, yet, they play freely, with the sole aim of giving meaning to their lives in which their members have already succeeded in various fields and now have the world to conquer.
“So, please, allow me to ask this same simple question to those who run the global game – the footballers, the agents, the sponsors and the committees…
What is football if it is not about freedom? What is life if it is not about freedom?” – Eric Cantona for The Players’ Tribune
The initiative here, taken by Club President, Nicholas Quiterio, and Club Secretary, Hillary Fernandez, is great and they are set to give the club a more professional status in the state in the near future. This doesn’t mean they’re going to play in a professional or amateur league, rather, they are going to make the club more recognisable by having an official launch in May 2019 and taking part in more activities related to their field.
What started with the aim of keeping social contact and decent fitness levels amongst a group of old friends with similar interests has now become something inspiring for the whole state. The aims from two years ago are still the same, but they now have more meaning to continue participating in the sport. If there’s any more motivation needed after looking at this team, then grasp the story of Manohar Netravelkar, the team’s 78-year-old goalkeeper, who, in one training session, dived to save a certain goal, fracturing his hand in the process and later turning up to practice sessions with his arm in a sling.
Mr Netravalkar is the team’s oldest player, and after nearly eight decades, he, just like so many of his team-mates, are just at the start of their journey.
MANY THANKS TO HILLARY FERNANDEZ AND MARCUS MERGULHAO