The experience of meeting the football fraternity in Kolkata is like nowhere else in the country. These individuals have a deep rooted passion for the sport which usually goes back many generations in their families. They love discussing football, thinking about football and they especially love recounting historical football moments. Many of them will do anything to be on the football pitch analyzing how they can improve their current squad, sign better players for cheap or crush their rival club. Even senior members of the West Bengal football circuit, who have the dual responsibility of being a non-football related company director or government official, have no problem ignoring the piles of work on their desk and people lined up outside their office to engage in long conversations about Indian football.
I had a number of meetings in Kolkata this past week and, in addition to being thoroughly entertained, I learned something new from each meeting. Mainly I learned that the leaders of West Bengal football recognize that their state is home to the most passionate football supporters in the country, yet they are still hesitant to take the proper steps to become the model football state when it comes to building a sustainable foundation for the sport to succeed. They will invest millions each year on players to win the national and state leagues but are still not ready to invest any resources in integral cost heads such as Marketing, Fan Development and Community Outreach. For any sport to really grow and sustain itself in these modern times, it is key that clubs look beyond the pitch when allocating resources. The decision makers are well aware of this fact, but are still waiting for the industry to grow nationally before investing more money into the sport or their respective clubs.
I truly believe that West Bengal can be the state which serves as the model for other states to follow when it comes to Indian football. You can’t teach passion and those behind the scenes within the West Bengal football circuit certainly have the right amount of passion to make a lasting difference to the future of the game in the this country. I look forward to many more trips to Kolkata and working with the community to leverage their passion and build a professional footballing environment within West Bengal.