ATANU MITRA (FOLLOW @Atanu00 on Twitter)
Pride Sports Club, a Delhi-based outift which took part in the I-League second division this year, has found itself mired in controversy after players and members of the coaching staff revolted against the management for alleged non-payment of salaries and other expenses.
The club, which had chosen Jabalpur as its home ground for the second-tier club competition, couldn’t garner a single point from their six fixtures and ended up giving a walk-over in the last tie.
The players are furious over the whole episode and have knocked on the doors of All India Football Federation (AIFF) with head coach Paul Pedro also joining their plea for justice. The allegations coming from the footballers are very serious in nature.
“It has been the worst part of my career so far. They arranged for trials at a school in Noida, where we were provided accommodation only once the squad was selected,” a footballer told Goal on condition of anonymity.
“In the evening, we had to go out to dine at a nearby dhaba. But after a couple of days, the shop asked us for money and informed that they have received orders from the club management to stop servicing us. We kept on spending money from our own pockets,” he added.
“Our first match of the league was away against Fateh Hyderabad. We arrived at Hyderabad airport only four hours before the match. We lost the first match and next morning, we didn’t have a field to practice. The owner of the team didn’t travel with us and the manager couldn’t make all necessary arrangements."
"We travelled to Bengaluru via train but only 12 railway tickets were confirmed. Everywhere we went, we were hounded by hotel owners because the entire amount was due. In Mumbai, we were put up in such a bad hotel that it was almost impossible to sleep," the player added.
“Even in Jabalpur, we didn’t have a proper ground to practice and didn’t even have footballs. We prepared as much as we could even though we were not getting paid and the hotel owners wanted to throw us out. At one point of time, the hotel owner threatened that he will sell all our belongings and put us behind the bars. Then we informed the Football Players Association of India (FPAI) and the Madhya Pradesh Football Association (MPFA) and they arranged for our food. There were a few days when some of the footballers were almost starving having run out of money,” he claimed.
Two more footballers, who were contacted by Goal, gave out the exact same details of the story. The surprising part of this drama is how a Delhi-based team got to play their home matches at Jabalpur. This happened courtesy a deal signed between Pride Sports and the Madhya Pradesh Football Association.
“Last year, Pride Sports contacted me and wanted me to take part in grassroots development, referee education and all other aspects of the game here. They were keen to take the field and I thought there was no point in rejecting them,” Amit Deb, the top official of the association, who is also an executive committee member of the AIFF informed Goal. “They were eager to play in the second division I-League and I thought it would be great if a team from my state gets to compete at that level. I am grateful to AIFF president Praful Patel and general secretary Kushal Das for that. But what they did after that was totally wrong and the young players had to suffer,” he further added.
“They didn’t pay us anything at first and after much persistence, gave us cheques of an amount of 3 lakhs. However, all those cheques bounced. Moreover, I had to bail out the team from the hotel and it cost me close to 4 lakhs. I now reckon I had made a mistake by believing them,” he said in an apologetic tone.
Ashrujit Chatterjee, an A-license coach was appointed the head coach of the team in the beginning. “I was coaching the Madhya Pradesh Santosh Trophy team when they came calling. They offered me Rs. 25,000 per month to become the head coach for the I-League second division and informed that a Portuguese coach named Paul Pedro will be joining as the Technical Director. However, the system was not in place and the players were registered on the eve of the first match, with the co-operation of Amit Deb. However, it seemed that Pedro was interfering with my job and the club management didn’t mind that. So, after a couple of matches, I left my post and returned home. They haven’t cleared my dues yet,” the coach who had attended the A-license course along with the likes of Biswajit Bhattacharya, Shankarlal Chakraborty and Jamshid Nassiri told Goal.
While Pedo led the players in lodging the complaint, there was resentment against him as well. "He dropped the goal-keeper of the team because he was also a Bengali and was recruited by Ashrujit Sir. This came back to hurt the team’s performances,” a player informed.
The AIFF acted quickly after receiving the official complaint. They show-caused the club and will send the whole matter to the disciplinary committee. Sukanto Das, the owner of the club and the main protagonist behind the drama, sounded exceedingly confident about receiving a favourable ruling.
“These are all stories made up by players to create a chaos. I have submitted all documents to the AIFF on Monday night. I am sure we will be cleared of all these false allegations and we wish to take part in the second division league once again next year,” he told Goal during a long chat, quashing all claims documented by the footballers.
The players are also keeping faith in people sitting at the Football House at Dwarka. “I hope AIFF will hand them some exemplary punishment. We are no less concerned about our career and wonder what will happen if they deny to give us the release in the future,” a footballer remarked.
The ball is now in AIFF’s court and they must give a prudent ruling quickly as it is evident that one of these two parties is blatantly lying.