So, finally the dreadful news was made public today! But, was it a News for the JCT faithful that the club has decided to disband itself from professional football? Without a doubt,the Phagwara club was already in tatters before this was made public today. There are various, and more obvious reasons as to why JCT FC chose to part its ways with the professional looking football league in India. For the audience, who are undone by their passion week after week, and take the pain of following Indian football clubs, the reasons are not a part of any rocket science module.
Jagatjit Cotton and Textile Mills Football Club, formerly known as JCT Mills FC, and famously known as The Millmen, came into existence in 1971 and soon attracted top players like Inder Singh and Parminder Singh. Established by renowned industrialist M.M Thapar, JCT molded into a major force in Indian football as the years ticked on. The club built a reputation of grooming young talent and developing professional football players. Some of the famous players like I.M Vijayan, current Indian captain Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chettri, Rennedy Singh and Sukhwinder ‘Sukhi’ Singh have embraced the football pitch in JCT’s red and white colors. Adding to the club, JCT bragged about the fact that it was the only football club in India with a robust youth system, having set up academies for children from a young age of 13 till the age of 19.
In last 3 decades of its existence in the Indian football scene, JCT, often reffered to as Pride of Punjab among it’s faithful, was the first club outside Kolkata to win the prestigious IFA Shield in 1996. JCT was the first Indian club to take the initiative and think out of the box when the club management appointed a foreign coach. One of their major achievements till date is winning the opening edition of the National Football League in 1996. They finished 3rd in the 2007-2008 season of the newly formed I-League. The team has been 8 times winner of the Punjab Football League and 5 times winner of the coveted Durand club. The club also won the federation cup twice consecutively in 1995 and 1996. JCT also left its mark on the Asian football scene when they represented the country in Asian Club Championship in 1997. The Millmen sprang a surprise – the Phagwara team finished as Runner’s up in as recent as 2006/07 campaign, once again attesting the effectiveness and authority of their youth system.
Affiliation with Wolverhampton Wanderers
In May 2008, JCT formed a partnership with Wolverhampton Wanderers, one of the premier clubs in England, famously known as the Wolves. The English club announced a community-led partnership with JCT. The collaboration has seen the club officials, academy staffs and players exchanging visits. Earlier this year, the head coach of the club, Parminder Singh, along with a contingent of five players – Pawan Kumar, Balwant Singh, Parveen Kumar, Amarwant Singh and Amandeep Singh spent a week with Wolves first team players as part of the tie-up programme between the two clubs.
JCT was one of the few Indian clubs which met the recently laid AFC criteria and were given a green signal by the visiting AFC committee led by the AFC Chief Bin Hammam. It was attested by the AFC that JCT possesses a good academic structure with flawless management and a decent stadium to boast about – Finishing Runners-up in last year’s Durand Cup edition held in New Delhi.
JCT Football club was relegated for the first time in their history last season, as the former champions could manage only to garner six wins in the whole season. JCT lost key players; both at the start of the last season, and post their relegation. Players like Karanjit Singh, Penn Orji and Baljit Singh have been regular starters at their respective clubs (Salgaocar and East Bengal), playing crucial roles. This has been the dismal story in recent years for the Ludhiana Club – Influential players leaving, not citing enough support and then eventually moving on for more lucrative deals elsewhere. JCT FC, post relegation saw ta herd of influential players leave the club, including top scorer Ajay Singh (Mumbai FC) along with Baldeep Singh, Harish Sharma (Both United Sikkim), Sarang Singh, Jaspreet Singh (Both Churchill Brothers), Lalchuanmawia (Shillong Lajong), Rahul Kumar, Randeep Singh (Salgaocar SC).
Disbanding of a Powerhouse
In very sad and disheartening news today, the club revealed that it would take a pre-mature exit from professional football activities with immediate effect. This happens almost a year after Mahindra United took the same route, shutting their shop at a time when they were slotted second in the table. This spurs a second thought about disbanding of a club, playing professional football in India. One feels it has to be much more than just relegation. The lack of support and TV exposure, especially in North India, led to the club releasing a statement today quoting:-
“JCT Limited has taken a strategic decision to pull out for the time being till football in India shows some possibility of generating value for corporates and their brands, besides bringing up popularity of football among youngsters“
The speculation was always high, after the club’s much talked about relegation and flurry of players leaving the Guru Nanak Stadium. The club has faced major financial jolts in recent years, which eventually led home matches kicking off amidst empty stands and bad pitch condition. Jagatjit Cotton and Textile Mills, just like Automobile giant Mahindra and Mahindra, released a statement saying the club wanted to focus more on the grass root level. JCT football club has assured that they won’t indulge in shutting down their famous academies. Former player and India captain asks for making professional football clubs in India a commercial entity, and warns that there would be more clubs following Mahindra United and JCT FC, if the ‘not-so-subtle’ problem remains unaddressed. Bhutia exclaimed-
“In 1996, when we won the inaugural National Football League and that was the golden period of JCT football. Myself, Vijayan, Jo-Paul (Ancheri), Carlton Chapman, Tejinder Kumar formed the core. All the stars wanted to play for JCT. But you have got to understand their sentiments. Year after year, they have been spending crores of rupees with minimal returns.”
Certainly the former player felt the pinch of the news.
Current JCT chief, Samir Thapar, who is also the president of Punjab Football Federation, blames AIFF for not marketing the game in the right way, even after the booming deal AIFF cracked with IMG-Rellaince last year.
There are certainly many questions to be fired at the top administration, sitting in Dwarka. The time when every Indian football lover felt a revamp of Indian football had kick started, this news breaks many football loving hearts across the nation. AIFF is already in a hot soup relative to selection of national players and the national teams consistent unimposing performances on international stage, this news would certainly oil their think-tank.
Every revolution needs a moment of madness, which eventually leads to a generic mass thinking. Two big names in Indian football, two big corporates, washing their hands off Indian football inside a year, might just do the trick. It is yet to be seen whether AIFF is interested in throwing something in the Indian football fanatics’ plate, or if the big boys are happy organizing friendly matches in India.