Teaching the ‘Pune way'

Showing the way... Pune FC is the right example of how a club can survive the harsh realities of Indian football.-S.R. RAGHUNATHAN

The impact of PFC on Indian football is now in focus, and the talking point is: how a new club in a new city is creating a following for the game and developing a link with students from schools and colleges in Pune. Over to Nandakumar Marar.

Pune Football Club, which gained promotion to the I-League in the 2009-10 season, has created a buzz in the Indian football circles. At a time when corporate-backed teams such as Mahindra United and JCT were forced to shut shop, PFC's footprint in Indian football is becoming more and more prominent.

Though the club finished fifth in the 2010-11 I-League (it stood third in its first season in 2009-10), victories against teams such as Salgaocar, East Bengal, Dempo SC and Churchill Brothers were its high points.

“Indian football is going through a transitional phase. Clubs like JCT and Mahindra United have downed shutters but you have clubs like PFC, Shillong Lajong and United Sikkim coming in,” says Chirag Tanna, the Head of Operations, PFC. “Change may seem disruptive, but I have no doubts that in the long run, things will be much better.”

The impact of PFC on Indian football is now in focus, and the talking point is: how a new club in a new city is creating a following for the game and developing a link with students from schools and colleges in Pune. “One of the most important lessons we have learnt is that no club can survive without fans. I cannot comment on what other clubs are doing, but at PFC we strive to keep improving our fans' match-day experience,” says Tanna. “In India, a lot of clubs spend all their money on the I-League squad and not much on community development or development of its fan base.

“At PFC we have separate budgets for the senior team, youth development, fan development and community development programmes and other marketing activities. We conduct various fan and community-connect activities throughout the year which keeps our fans in touch with us.”

The PFC players going on to the field, escorted by local school children, for each of their home matches in the I-League ensures families in the stands.

The club's support for tournaments at the school, college and village levels helps it build a fan base. It also offers local exposure to its sponsors.

“Sponsorships for football are available at a reasonable price and the sponsors get a lot of exposure through the year. PFC gives its sponsors the mileage by conducting community and fan development activities and promoting local football. The club has been selective in who comes on board at every level. We do realise the importance of giving back to the community that gives us so much. We educate our players on what is expected of them on and off the field,” says Tanna.

Promoted by Ashok Piramal Group, the club rewards performers by conducting an awards ceremony, where the players chosen by coaches and voted by fans are felicitated.

The Peninsula Pune FC Academy is a major project of PFC designed to tap junior talent and create a feeder service for various age group squads of the club. “The PFCA has been launched to provide young players a platform to develop their talent and hopefully make it to the senior team. It is important for us to inculcate the ‘Pune Way' to these youngsters,” says Tanna.

Ranjan Choudhury, who was earlier with the Tata Football Academy, heads the PFCA as the Director of Youth Development. Dr Ashok Kumar, former Indian Bank captain, is the club's General Manager. Derrick Pereira, former India defender and AFC Pro Coaching Licence holder, is the Head Coach of the I-League squad.

While the Indian clubs are expected to survive in a situation where cash incentives for winning the I-League are meagre, Tanna is of the view that better marketing of the I-League will help clubs make the turnaround. “With IMG-Reliance purchasing the commercial rights to Indian football, we expect positive changes in the way the league is marketed,” he says.

PFC's game plan

Sponsors inter-school, inter-college, inter-village and corporate tournaments.

Players/coaches attend school/college functions.

Local school children escort the players to the field for every home I-League match.

Conducts education programme for local coaches.

Conducts contests (for fans) such as predicting the score of a match etc.

Runs PFC TV that can be watched on the club's website or its Youtube account. The PFC TV has four segments: i) PFC headlines (weekly highlights about the club's activities), ii) ‘FAN-tastic', a monthly programme where a fan spends a day with the team's ‘Gladiators', iii) player profiles and upcoming talent, and iv) ‘90 Minutes of Magic', a programme that covers every game played by the team, including highlights and post-match comments.