Mainly known for its beaches and party lifestyle (don’t forget the Fenny), Goa is a popular tourist destination in India. What many people get to know only after visiting the place, is the people's devotion to football.
Goa has risen to the status of a football powerhouse in India, challenging the might of West Bengal, which is considered the home of Indian football with teams like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.
Considering Goa became a part of India after liberation from Portuguese rule in 1961, they have been quick to adopt a professional approach towards the growth and popularity of the sport at the grass root level. Dempo Sporting Club is a shining example of the rise of Goan football.
Dempo SC, a club based in Panjim, the capital of Goa, was formed in 1960. Dempo is Goa's first professional football club. In the last four years, Dempo SC has won the Indian League thrice ('05, '06, '08), and have also won the India Super Cup (‘08), the Durand Cup (‘06) and the Federation Cup (‘04).
Dempo is the only Indian club to make it to the semifinals of the AFC Cup, when it defeated Home United FC in the quarters of the current edition.
Dempo SC boasts of a star-studded starting line-up, with the newly signed Nigerian striker Chidi Edeh, Mahesh Gawli, Nicolau Borges, Climax Lawrence, and Samir Naik.
Nigerian striker Chidi Edeh scored 11 goals last season and a hat-trick in the Federation Cup. Mahesh Gawli is already branded as the finest defender India has shaped in current times and left winger Nicolau Borges is one of the most exciting players in the league.
Dempo SC was in the dumps at the beginning of the 1999-2000 season, after club legends like Mauricio Afonso and Camilo Gonsalves hung up their boots. Dempo was facing relegation and the owner, Mr. Srinivas Dempo, was considering disbanding the team.
In his own words, “You cannot be mediocre. Either you are among the top or not there at all.”
It was only the intense fan support which made him change his mind. With a reduced budget and an inexperienced line-up, things were set to go downhill for Dempo SC when former player Mr. Armando Colaco took charge of the club to lead them back to their best.
In his first year, the club failed to make it into the top division but eventually won promotion the following year by winning the second division league.
Dempo finished fourth in the NFL and followed it up with a second place finish just four points behind East Bengal. That was the sign of the rise of Dempo and they won their first NFL in 2004-05.
They won back-to-back league titles for the last two years.
“Colaco’s selection of overseas players and his method of handling them have been a key factor. The foreigners have gelled well with the local boys and that is our strength,” says goalkeeper Abhijit Mondal.
An incident that nearly left Coach Armando in shatters, and practically caused him to leave coaching, was the demise of star striker Cristiano Junior in 2004. The Brazilian footballer died on the field on December 5th, tragically leaving his heart and jersey behind in Goa. His death, caused by cardiac arrest, had left almost the whole of India in a gloom.
Although he died on his true home, a football ground, his final act of scoring a goal enabled the team to win the Federation Cup. One player said, “Wish we had lost in the earlier round and returned home, for then our Junior would still be with us."
The team paid its respect to Junior by winning the NFL that year. It was a deep emotional setback for the team. But it was his dream to be the champion who provided the motivation for the whole club to carry on and succeed.
Today, under Colaco, Dempo are one of the most feared sides in Indian football and have won almost everything club football in India has to offer—yet its hunger is insatiable.
Why do people love Dempo SC? Fans say they don’t play for money, they play because they have football in their heart. But rivals say that everyone likes to support a successful team.
Dempo are the most dominant football club in Goa, and maybe even India. They have won almost every silverware in the country—ask the fans who have stood by their club through ups and downs, even when the club almost got disbanded due to poor performances. But thanks to Coach Armando, the club is now at its highest form and only seem to be getting better.
Fans still believe they play with flair and the eternal smile on their faces is not because of money or pride but because of the passion they have for the beautiful game.
Dempo SC faces Lebanese team SAFA FC in the semifinals of the AFC Cup on October 21. The team lost its last league match against JCT but the coach is confident about his team’s chances in the AFC.