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  • Writer's pictureArsenal Bengal Supporters Club

Gunning for Glory: The Inside Story of ABSC

Updated: Oct 23, 2020





The fire of greatness starts with a spark of belief. A vision. Once the ember smoulders, it must be fanned with patience and fed relentlessly with twigs of toil to get a bright glowing flame; just the way it is envisioned.


Closer home, the story of Arsenal Bengal is no exception.


It all began when a group of Arsenal F.C. supporters came together a decade ago, to create a Facebook group, which they named Arsenal Kolkata Supporters’ Club, unaware of the lives they were going influence in years to come.


Few years following its inception, the club got registered with the Registrar of Clubs and Societies as an Association of Persons in the name of Arsenal Bengal to underline the geographic reach, which it had now extended from Kolkata to other parts of West Bengal as well. However, the finest hour in the supporter club’s short history came in 2016 when it got officially recognized by the parent club, Arsenal F.C., all the way from London!


Besides hosting match day screenings and contributing to various charitable causes in the locality, Arsenal Bengal Supporters’ Club (ABSC) have always strived towards forming their own football team to compete in the amateur footballing circuit in Kolkata.


Dear reader, let’s relive the journey of the ABSC teams, starting from the beginning, in the early 2010s, right until the current batch of 2020. This series of posts is an ode to the people who made it possible; the ones who dreamt once, are now present to share their dream with us.


And who better to start off this series with than the co-founder and current Chairperson of the club, Mr Pratik Bhattacharya. Here is what he had to say when quizzed regarding the initial stages of the ABSC football team:


Q| Who conceived the idea of ABSC?

PB: It's hard to mention specific names as there were a group of 3-4 guys who came forward with the idea of building a football team, solely comprising the Arsenal lovers hailing from in and around Kolkata.

Q| When did you come up with the thought?

PB: It was back in 2010 that we first had this idea.

Q| How many came forward to join the team initially?

PB: We had around 10-12 guys every session. We used to play 5-a-side matches in Maidan. The good thing is that some of those guys are still with the squad even today!

Q| How was the experience of representing Arsenal Bengal in the initial days?

PB: The guys were all gassed up as it was the first, an all-exclusive Arsenal fan members’ footballing club in the city. We used to play together, but off the field, the chemistry was not up to the mark, as most of the guys would come to play but didn't get involved in other club activities. However, two pillars of the club today, Head of Football, Sayan Maitra, and General Secretary, Avinoj Roy – both joined the club through the football team. So, there’s hardly anything to be remorseful of.

Q| Why did the initiative to put up a team together fail in the long run?

PB: Truth be told, the major reason behind that team failing and later getting dissolved was that the core 2-3 members of the bunch had to either move out of the city or had gotten busy with their higher education. For instance, I had to move to Bangalore for my professional compulsions, Sayan, presently the Head of Football, had to go to the States for his higher studies, and Avinoj, presently the General Secretary, got busy with his research. There was hardly anyone to take up the responsibilities.

Q| Being the Chairperson of the club, what are your plans with the teams?

PB: To be honest, it's about how things go. But I will obviously want to keep my focus on Lumos Femeni (ABSC’s girls’ team), as I believe this small initiative of ours has the potential to be something significant in years to come. The current boys’ team is, to some extent, stable. Ups and downs keep coming but they are in good hands and have been really catching eyes in the last couple of tournaments. There's good chemistry in the men’s squad. I believe this team, with sincere training, can get themselves named among the top teams in the city’s amateur circuit very soon!


Arsenal Bengal now boasts of around 56 boys and 32 girls in their registered squad. This is all down to the hard work that has been put down the years.

 

Next in the hot seat is Mr Sayan Maitra, the Head of Football, ABSC. Perhaps, the most influential personality on the football field. If one person is to be credited to bring this bunch of players together for the love of the game, it must be him!


It was in the month of March’19 when he came back to Kolkata from the USA for a semester break. On his return, the first thing he did was to create a WhatsApp group and add the core players that he knew were interested to represent the club. What happened next? Let’s hear it from the man himself!


Q| After failing in the longer run, the team got fully dissolved and after several attempts, it could not be recovered again. But you did it. What did you have in mind when you returned from the US?

SM: Well, to be honest, I had no idea that I was going to restart the team when I came to India for a break. Pratik asked me to manage the team, as I did it with him before in 2012. So, when he asked me to restart, it was a no-brainer. Like most of our players, I have played football in India for a long, long time, and leaving home took a toll on it, and I couldn't continue. I know how hard it is for people who love the game but are forced to stay away from it. People tend to take things for granted, and when you are separated from it, you realize its actual value. This was the situation for me, so I did not want others to lose this opportunity, while they have the privilege at hand. This was what I roughly had in mind.

Q| Who was the best player back in those days (the early 2010s)?

SM: Well, it's really hard to say who was 'the best player' in our squad singularly. Some people worth mentioning are Pratik (yes, our very own president), Soumya Basu, Md. Hafiz, Arpan (present coach), Sayan and Suman Dutta, Amrit Singh, Rohan Sinha.

Q| How many of those players remain in the current squad?

SM: Right now, Hafiz is somewhat a regular member of the squad. Pratik trains with us when he is in town (he skips the training and then plays in the friendly). Arpan is the player-coach for us.

Q| What are the major issues you faced while getting this team together?

SM: When we first got together as a team back in 2012-13, it was just because all of us loved the game and Arsenal and wanted to play together and socialize with likeminded people. That turned out to be a proper team, and we decided to participate in various college tournaments, as all of us were in college back then. So, there weren't any major problems other than semester results for us back then. During the revival, I got a lot of help from Sayantan and Suhit to assemble former members of the teams, along with new ones, to start things off again. They did most of the job, honestly, from motivating the players to nagging them to come to the sessions. The hardest part was to maintain motivation, getting enough people to the ground. But people eventually really got enthusiastic about it, and now we are all doing great.

Q| The first-ever session of the current squad had 9 members attending, how did it grow to over 50 today?

SM: Turns out there are a lot of Arsenal fans out there who wanted to play football as a team, and some who really wanted to be a part of something regular. We simply reached out to these people, and now they are all regular members of the team.


Q| As all members of the current squad are either a student or working, how difficult is it to manage time for the team?

SM: It is hard, but the credit goes to all our members who still manage time to come down and play as a team every weekend. Yes, people miss out because of exams, tuitions, office shifts but most manage a lot of time for the club, and we are really happy about that.
 

Next in line, we have a person who has always been a strong pillar for the ABSC. Currently, serving as the General Secretary, Mr Avinoj Roy is one of the popular figures among the club members.


Q| We all know that Arsenal Bengal claimed the Champion’s trophy in the Ashburton Cup last year. Now, what was the biggest achievement of the team in the foregone years?

AR: The result in the Ashburton Cup had long been coming home. This has been the sheer result of remaining together as a unit, on and off the field. However, in the early days of the club, with the first-blood members, there were two notable performances – one at the Gitanjali Stadium, ending up as semi-finalists amongst thirty-two teams, and another, finishing the Futsal Association’s tournament as runners-up.

Q| What do you think is so special about the current set of players?

AR: What’s special about the current lot is consistency, hands down. I personally have never seen this consistency in motivation, performance and discipline, especially from people who are, by no means, associated with football professionally. A huge chunk of credit must be given to our coach, Arpan, who has made sure this team remains like one unit. From what I can foresee, this is only getting bigger from here on.

Q| How, when and why did the very thought of starting a girl’s football team come?

AR: Every year, we host an internal, friendly tournament amongst the fellow Gooners – Arsenal Bengal Insider Tournament, as we fondly call it. The notion of having a bunch of girls to represent us came from one of the Insider tournaments, held in recent past, where few of the women's football teams from schools and colleges were invited to participate. It is rather difficult to ignore the fact that women have been included in sports in a very underwhelming manner. While we had the resources in place, we had to do something about it.
 

We had our opportunity to discuss the current ABSC squad in-depth with the person who knows it the best. The coach himself, Mr Arpan Bhattacharya. Here’s what he had to say:


Q| Sitting on both the banks, being a member of the team from its early days and now the coach of both the ABSC FT and LF, which role did you enjoy the most?

AB: Role of the coach – any given day.

Q| Why so?

AB: I always wanted to be the coach of a team, and ABSC gave me the chance to be one and I am really thankful for that. When I came here for the first time as a player, I saw there were many skilled players in the team, but the team missed the chemistry. There was no camaraderie, per se, between players. So, after some years when the ABSC football teams restarted with practice sessions, I thought it would be better if someone coached them so that the best performance can be brought out. So, I chose to volunteer for the role of the player-coach, being one of the senior members.

Q| What issues do you face in everyday training with the ABSC and how do you cope with that?

AB: The main issue for us had been discipline. Before being a good footballer, you ought to be a good person, and for that, you must be disciplined. Yes, there are some persistent disciplinary issues in our team, even today, like absenteeism, unwillingness to do the drills, etc. I tend to address the problems one day at a time, at an individual level. To address these challenges, we ensure a meritocracy-based system, where practice, fitness, discipline and performance determine one’s place in the team roster.


Q| What are your plans with the ABSC teams?

AB: To make them one of the top and sustainable amateur football teams in Kolkata, within a year. And personally, I would love to be the coach of the teams for many more years to come.
 

Although Arsenal Bengal is all about an association of diehard Arsenal supporters, there are still some special cases which come out as exceptions. It's about how a lifelong Manchester United fan found his place amongst a group of supporters from a rival club. We spoke to Mr Saurav Podder on how the journey was for him: belonging to a different fanbase, yet gelling perfectly with Arsenal Bengal to an extent, where he is regarded as one of the crucial mentors of the Lumos Femeni team.


Q| You were and still are a Manchester United fan by heart. Then how did Arsenal Bengal become home for a Red Devil?

SP: Yes you heard right! Look the key to success is your relationship with the players, coaches and management. Important clubs and important players succeed when the environment is amicable. The players must enjoy their work and feel free to express their talent, like being at home. And honestly, they never consider me just as a player or member or a supporter of a rival club – I've rather been treated nothing less than any other member at the club. So, I can proudly say that ABSC is my family, and people here are all my family members.

Q| How did it all begin with Arsenal Bengal?

SP: The beginning was fairly simple. I genuinely wanted to try some new challenges and Gourav referred me to the ABSC, and I took part in the Insider'19. After that day, ABSC soon became an important thing in my life. Earlier, I played for DHRGFC, KMUFC, BAC and some local level clubs. Right now, I'm here and I'm enjoying playing for the club – that’s what that matters the most.

Q| What do you think is so special about this team?

SP: Arsenal Bengal is one of the most prestigious, respected and feared teams in Kolkata nowadays. It’s rather commendable that, in such a short timeframe, the club achieved a lot of accolades by their performance. While there’s no second thought on how passionate our young lads are, and at the same time, there are senior members bringing the experience to the team. So, I believe, the blend is perfect. Touché.

Q| As you are also a coaching staff of the ABSC LF, what do you think brings these girls together to form a team in a country where football is not taken as a major sport and amateur women football is almost non-existent?

SP: Well, ever since She's The Man came out, the world has started to take notice of girls who want to be taken seriously as football players. The truth is that women in football just don’t get the same amount of attention and respect that the men in football receive; and as a matter of fact, it is highly disappointing. It is encouraging for women footballers if the clubs come forward to pull them up and respect their game, and that's precisely why we have strived to put together a team for them, Lumos Femeni. I hope, what we are doing today, sets an example for other clubs, not just in Kolkata but beyond.


 

A football team becomes successful only when the members of the team find oneness on the pitch, regardless of who they are, and where they come from. Arsenal Bengal strives to incorporate these values into their players. Besides this, gender equality is another value that the ABSC promotes wholeheartedly. This has led to the club becoming the first-ever Official Supporters' Club in India to build an exclusive football team for girls in November 2019! The girls not only get to learn the beautiful game but also share the same playing field with the boys.


Circa 1969, Neil Armstrong taught us that giant leaps begin with small steps. As we wrap up with this round of interview, I’m sure you’ll agree that Neil makes sense through the works of Arsenal Bengal Supporters’ Club.

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