Saturday, December 10, 2016

What A Week!!! – 4 First Time Experiences

This past week was full of a few extraordinary firsts for me, ones that I will cherish for the rest of my life....

First #1 – Attended my First FC Goa Match

My dear friend, Sukhvinder Singh, has been CEO of the Indian Super League club, FC Goa, for a little over a year now which is about the same amount of time I’ve been telling him that I would visit Goa to attend a match.  So as I watched the 3rd ISL season breeze by, I finally decided to book a flight for my wife and I to attend FC Goa’s 1st December fixture against Chennaiyin FC, a re-match of last year’s championship game. 

We arrived into Goa just a few hours before the game and went straight to the team hotel located in the South not too far away from the stadium.  I must have travelled to Goa 20 times over the past few years however there isn’t a time when I arrive when I don’t comment about how different the vibe is compared to the rest of India.  Even at the team hotel, there was this relaxed, “everything is going to be okay” feeling in the air which I just love to drown myself into.

After a nice lunch and catch up with Sukkhi and some of FC Goa officials, we headed to the match.  Even though FC Goa were already out of the playoffs and the match was basically meaningless for both competing clubs, there was still a buzz around the stadium as Goans of all different ages marched their way to Nehru Stadium proudly sporting their blue FC Goa jerseys.

We also proudly sported our personalized FC Goa jerseys and marched up to the Owners lounge where we munched on pre-game chaat and caught up with FC Goa and Chennaiyin FC executives and staff.  We then were taken over to the Chennaiyin FC owners area where the CEO introduced my wife and I to club owner Abhishek Bachchan and then finally took our seats to watch the match. 

The game was extraordinary. Honestly, I doubt that anyone told the players that they were both out of the playoffs already as both teams played their hearts outs in a game that ended with a 5 – 4 last minute FC Goa victory with the winning goal scored by local boy Sahil Tavora.  It was probably one of the most entertaining matches I’ve seen while in India and I’m sure the other 15,000 people in the stands would say the same.

After the game, we joined the many other vehicles on the road sporting FC Goa flags from their windows and discussed the 9 goal thriller all the way back to Sukkhi’s house in Dona Paula. The next evening we were invited to the FC Goa season party to culminate the year with FC Goa players, officials and staff on the luxurious Deltin Royale Casino Boat owned by FC Goa owner Jaydev Mody.

Both Avantika and I loved the experience and I’m sure we will attend many more FC Goa matches in the future, but I’m not quite sure how to tell her that she won’t be meeting Abhishek Bachchan at every match.

Avantika with one of the most passionate FC Goa supporters

Zico and FC Goa players celebrating after the match

local boy Sahil Tavora after scoring the game winner

The casino boat where we celebrated FC Goa's season

First #2 – Spoke at Soccerex for the First Time

I’ve been attending Soccerex events since 2013 but have never had the opportunity to speak at one of them.  This year was different. Now in my new avatar as CEO, DSK Shivajians and the head of the LFC International Academy – DSK, the organizers of the Soccerex Asian Forum felt that it made sense to invite someone from India over to share about a successful international partnership, one that actually started to formulate at the 2013 Soccerex Global Forum in Manchester, UK.

So myself and DSK Shivajians FC First Team Manager and former LFC-DSK Academy Director, Dave Rogers, travelled to Doha, Qatar to speak on the DSK Shivajians and Liverpool FC partnership as well as on the present state and future of Indian football.  It was a great opportunity for both of us as a young CEO and young Manager looking to make our marks within Asia and on the global football scene. 

I must say that both Dave and I fully leveraged the Soccerex platform to communicate exactly what we wanted to communicate to the audience of global football industry influencers. We touched on the importance of a committed and long-term approach to youth development, the value that infrastructure investment can have on an emerging football market and what’s possible in the development of football in India if more investors take on a similar approach to that of DSK Shivajians FC.

The talk went well and we received some positive feedback from members of the audience which was a positive especially when we were following some high profile names that had sat in the same seats not long before us including FC Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez and England international Stuart Pearce. I do believe that platforms like Soccerex are important for clubs from India to attend and, ideally, speak at as it allows the global football community to get a sense of what’s actually happening straight from the horse’s mouth rather than making assumptions based on the myriad of quotes and articles written about the Indian football industry.

Dave and I with AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das

Dave and I with FC Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez

First #3 – Travelled to the Middle East for the First Time / Aspire Academy

Football has given me so much and access to seeing the world is one of the biggest gifts the beautiful game has offered. While the sport has taken me all through North America, Europe and India for some reason I’ve not had the opportunity to experience the Middle East during my career.  This all changed last week when I travelled to Doha, Qatar to speak at the Soccerex Asian Forum.

I’m not sure if Doha is at all representative of the other big cities in the Middle East however I can say that for some reason the place mesmerized me.  One would think that after living in India, nothing can really surprise you but somehow I couldn’t take my eyes the sights of the city. It was like being in a major Hollywood studio with futuristic buildings mixed in with desert architecture.  I loved it and definitely wished I had more time to explore this diamond in the desert. 

While in Doha, Dave and I did sneak away from Soccerex to visit the Aspire Academy. Without going into any details about the place, all I will say is that it has to be hands down the best multi-sport residential academy in the world.  I highly encourage any individual, organisation or government interested in building a development centre, to VISIT ASPIRE ACADEMY to understand the benchmark prior to moving forward with your plans. 

First #4 – Spoke at FICCI GOAL for the First Time

Every year the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) organise a football conference called “GOAL.” This was actually an initiative we started back when Sukkhi and I were at Libero Sports and over the past few years I’ve moderated some sessions but have never actually spoken on a panel. 

This year FICCI decided to host GOAL in Mumbai and invite me to speak on a panel about the “Mission Eleven Million” campaign and grassroots programming.  The conference was hosted in the beautiful Sofitel Hotel in Mumbai and I somehow made it to the inaugural session on time after an overnight flight from Doha followed by a few hours of broken sleep at the Mumbai airport lounge hotel.

The panel discussion went really well thanks to the moderator Star Sports CEO Nitin Kukreja and my fellow panelists representing the 2017 FIFA U17 World Cup organising committee, FC Goa and a Sports Science organisation.  I have a lot of respect for FICCI Sports Head Rajpal Singh for his passion to bring the sports industry together and for his commitment in putting on such events year after year.  

Yes, it was a pretty packed and exciting week of firsts for me.  I must admit, though, immediately after my session at FICCI GOAL I grabbed a few bites at the tasty Sofitel lunch buffet, met some industry friends and then rushed to catch a taxi to take me on the 4 hour drive to Pune so I could hug my wife and get some much needed rest. 

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