Football took a full circle last Saturday as over eighty odd players- from the one hundred and fifty-who were once part of Panvel Sports Club met in Agassaim to celebrate having won the Bandodkar Gold Trophy on the same date and day forty five years ago.
The ball never stopped rolling from the time the first people started entering and kept spewing memories of the past till the last man walked out. At the end, forty five years did not appear to be a long time ago.
The Panvel SC celebration was just not about winning the Bandodkar Gold Trophy forty five years back or recollecting the memories of the epic final but a story of a club that was the nursery of football– that sprouted players that ended to win the Arjuna award and players that went on to represent the country.
As one grew up with football, Panvel was a club only heard of . There were stories of players that Panvel produced; their style of football; and most importantly, the passion that lingered on. That passion could be physically seen on Saturday.
Nicholas Quiteiro is seventy two and was one of the first players to have played for Panvel SC in 1971. Sitting along with his Swedish wife Ulla, Nicholas wore passion all around him. Passion for his wife, and passion for Panvel. “This club was my nursery not just to football but life. We got refreshments and were paid for our transport and that made us human beings. Panvel gave us the kick to go ahead in life,” said Nicholas as his wife Ulla chipped in saying, “I never liked football but I never stopped him because football is what has made him what he is today.”
Football did not pay then and yet it produced some of the greatest football players Goa has ever since. The game is changing but the quality of players has not changed from better to best and that could be because love for football then is different to what it is now.
“In those days, there was no money in football. So, I thought if no money, I should at least try to attract girls and I think I did fairly well at that,” said Francis D’souza , the first player from Goa to have played for a club in Kolkata and to have started his playing career with Panvel.
Francis’s nick name is ‘Matari’ and it always left one wondering why? “He once acted in school as an old lady and that is why the name of ‘matari” stuck to him,” said a former colleague of Francis as the two exchanged nuggets of the past.
As the morning wore off it became clear that Panvel SC was not just about Francis or Brahmanand Sancoalcar or Oscar Noronha but of plenty of players who later went on to don colours for teams like Dempo SC, Salgacoar FC, Vasco SC and Sesa Goa.
“Most of us started from Panvel. We were either recommended by our school principal or local parish priest to Bothelo and it was after playing for the club that we got better offers with the big clubs of those days,” recollected Digambar Haldankar and Alex Miranda greats of Salgoacar FC and Dempo SC respectively.
“The starting point of many footballers of our time was Antonio Bothelo. If you were good or had talent in football you were recommended to Bothelo and once you were picked up, it signaled the start of a career in football. Bothelo was the starting point,” explained Alex Miranda.
“In Panvel we did not have a coach. We had a coach who was our physical trainer and we developed the game in us on our own. In those days there was a unity amongst us that is missing today. We did not know the meaning of back biting then. We did not know what it was to be jealous when playing,” said former football great Oscar Noronha who started with Panvel and moved to Salgaocar FC.
The Saturday morning Panvel SC fever was not just about memories of the club but about Antonio Bothelo’s tryst with football. Antonio was the secretary of Goa Football Association (GFA), in my early journalist days, and will always remembered as being an honest administrator who never compromised on the growth of players or the game.
Tonito, as he was then called and even now, was a straight secretary and probably one of the cleanest administrators the game has had in Goa. On Saturday, it became evident, that he not only had an eye for the game but love for football that took to him to the remotest corners of Goa in search of talent.
Here was a man who not only understood football but could administer without blemishes and his passion for the game is still intact. Despite his age, Bothelo is sometimes seen at the Ella ground watching youngsters being groomed or in Duler.
“I do not watch many games these days except for football on TV. I am seventy now and at this age I have realised that it is time to hand over the ropes to youngsters. It is time for others to take the game forward and mine to enjoy football on TV,” Bothelo once admitted.
Bothelo may have handed over the baton to youngsters but his love for football was verdant on Saturday as the former players not only celebrated 45 years of winning the Bandodkar Gold Trophy but what this football lover from Ribandar had done for the game.
For, Bothelo has inked a legacy of football that explains passion, football and honesty.