For my entire professional career, I’ve always been on the neutral side of football. Because of this, I’ve never been emotionally attached to any club in any of the countries where I’ve worked. While at Major League Soccer in the US, I worked with the League Office so when the season was going on I was more concerned with how many people were in attendance at the matches and how entertaining the match was versus who actually won. I know it sounds soft and superficial but it was professionally and personally challenging to get too emotionally involved with one particular club when all the clubs mattered to me.
Similarly in India at Dentsu and Libero Sports, I just wanted the clubs to do well and play quality football so the industry could grow. At the end of the day, it really didn’t matter to me who actually won the I-League or ISL season. Of course I wanted the players we represented to do well and, at times, if one of my friends was in management at a particular club I would hope they pull out a victory but it wouldn’t be enough for me to dwell on a win or loss too much.
Actually, the only teams I’ve ever been emotionally attached to are the US National Team, the Indian National Team and any team that I’m actually playing on. Whenever these teams lose, in any competition, I get sad. Other than these three I usually move on with my life soon after a match finishes.
Now that I’m running a professional football club everything has changed. I’m professionally, personally, emotionally, physically, spiritually and any other “ally” attached to my club. I know the coaches, I know the support staff, I know the players and I’ve been watching everyone associated with the club work hard every day for the past month of pre-season and I want nothing more than for the team to win.
Not only do I just love winning, but I also understand that positive results make a tremendous difference to staff & player morale, media perception, sponsorship and validates all the new ways of working we have started to implement on the technical and administrative areas of the club.
So given the above, you can imagine that I was watching our first official match under my helm as CEO, DSK Shivajians FC in a much different mental state than any other match I’ve ever watched. This match took place last Sunday in Delhi and it was the opening game of the Durand Cup, Asia’s oldest football tournament and the 3rd oldest tournament in the world.
There I sat in the VIP area of Delhi’s Ambedkar Stadium with our club owner, Shirish Kulkarni, tensely living every minute of our match against Sporting Club de Goa. It was very humid and our boys were young & inexperienced, however I had faith in our players’ work rate and knew that our technical staff would ensure a quality football match.
In the end, we pulled out a toughly fought 2-1 victory starting the Durand Cup in a positive way. It was a wonderful feeling because it was the first time as a spectator that I’ve ever felt a part of a victory and, of course, the direct benefits of the win could be experienced immediately through hugs, phone calls, media stories and 200+ likes on any of my Facebook posts associated with the match.
Since that match, we have played 3 more where we won 1, drew 1 and lost 1 and I lived each minute of these matches in the same tense, excitable way that I lived the first one. When we win I am happy and find myself smiling throughout the day and when we lose I am sad and it takes awhile to cheer up. I know that this is normal but also know that I must remain a bit detached to ensure I’m able to make it through the season with a healthy heart.
Overall, though, I wouldn’t change this experience for the world. While being neutral has its clear benefits, I’m loving the fact that I have the unique opportunity to be a part of a professional sports club living through every minute of every match as if I’m actually on the pitch. It’s an indescribable feeling.