The Bengaluru Football Club has caught the attention of sports fans and game obsessives alike. We catch up with a few players at an intense training session. By Rashmi Rajagopal
In May this year, Mumbai-based steel company Jindal South West (JSW) announced that they would be fielding a Bangalore team that will compete
in the I-League, India’s top-tier football division. From their very first match, the support for the 32-member Bengaluru FC has been phenomenal – a refreshing change in an otherwise cricket-dominated town. While there were always pockets that lived and breathed football, the BFC with its world-class players and global appeal has reached out to a wider audience. Sports media professionals in the city are of the unanimous opinion that ,“While we have had some decent teams like HAL and BEML in the past, they stayed small and limited due to financial constraints mainly, but BFC looks the most promising with the right mix of professionalism and glamour.” Blue and white are the official team colours and the BFC crest features a white silhouette of the Bangalore Palace against a royal blue backdrop with the mythological two-headed bird, Gandaberunda in the foreground. When the team is not training hard and gearing up for the upcoming matches, their next being against Sporting Clube de Goa, they find time to conduct football clinics at Christ University and participate in charity events like walkathons to support the girl child. They also have open training sessions encouraging fans to watch them train and interact with their favourite players. You might also catch them at BFC’s official pub, Arbor Brewing Company, which is their post-match hangout spot.
Coach Ashley Westwood is the picture of cool composure in his crisp cotton shirts and uncreased slacks at his club’s matches. His dapper and pleasing persona had reportedly set a few hearts a flutter at the beginning of the football season. After a successful start to BFC’s first I-League stint, the man commands some serious admiration and respect all round. Westwood’s illustrious career started off at the Manchester United Academy. He then moved to clubs like Crewe Alexandra, Bradford City, Sheffield Wednesday, Northampton Town and Lincoln City. He coached teams like Kettering, Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers and this year, signed a contract with Jindal South West, promoters of Bangalore Football Club.
The coach is rumored to be quite the wag in the locker room yet very serious when it comes to his job. “Most of the time, I’m watching recordings of the matches we played or ones our opponents played. I enjoy being successful so I try not to waste my time here in India and make every hour count,” he says. With a wealth of experience in European clubs, Westwood plans to set the same fitness and training standards for his Bangalore boys. “Anywhere you go in the world, the game of football is the same. So, I’m training the team just as I would any European team. I want to set high standards, both on and off the field for a better chance at success,” says the 37-year old. His personal fitness regimen involves two sessions per week at the gym, “though that’s not enough,” he shrugs, adding, “I was on a strict diet throughout my life due to the nature of my job but after I stopped playing, I’m not as serious about it as I used to be. However, I try to ease off on the carbs as much as I can.” The Briton is a father of four boys (two from a previous marriage) from ages 5 to 15. “When we get together it’s a lot of fun because it’s five boys,” says the doting dad. During breaks from a gruelling football season, Westwood escapes with family to his favourite holiday spot, Gran Canaria, where he owns a vacation home. “It’s a beautiful place and a great resort town. And with your family around, it’s perfect,” he concludes.
Favourite club: Manchester City Football Club
Best movie: Escape To Victory
Player I admire most: Bryan Robson
Most loved stadium: Wembley Stadium, London
This six-foot defender from Middlesbrough, England likes to unwind over a game of golf. “It feels great to be out in the sun, teeing off,” he begins. Johnson is great fun to interview and there was never a dull moment during our brief meeting. The 25-year-old took to football at the age of eight and signed his first professional contract at 16 with Middlesbrough Football Club in Northern England. He has since played for Tranmere Rovers and Northampton Town before moving to Bengaluru Football Club. “I lived in London for the past one year, I have two sisters, and oh yeah, I’m currently unattached… please put that down,” he insists with a twinkle. And we couldn’t see that being a problem given his amiable personality and obvious good looks. “People here are really warm and friendly and it feels great when you are treated that way, especially when you are so far away from home,” he says, admitting to an adventurous palate with Indian food at the top of his list, “although I don’t do great with too much spice,” he laughs.
And he also has some strong dislikes, “Like people who take themselves too seriously and karaoke,” he says, then confessing that he did try it at Kroak Nights in Opus. However, he does have a taste for house, electronica, rock and the Rolling Stones. Johnson, is also a serial prankster with a passion for travelling. He has explored Europe and South East Asia and hopes to revisit Thailand, Amsterdam and Ibiza. “I follow a healthy diet, drink plenty of water, take fish oil and workout thrice a week in addition to training everyday,” he says. “We are working hard as a team and as of now we’re in a decent place in the league and hopefully we will continue to improve,” he tells us while simultaneously exchanging good humoured banter, with friend and teammate, Robin Singh.
Favourite club: Liverpool Football Club
Best book: Gazza: My Story
Player I admire most: Luis Ronaldo
Most loved stadium: Wembley, London
Sunil Chhetri, captain of the Indian football team and BFC, is probably the most high profile footballer in the country. With stints at clubs abroad like Kansas City Wizards and Sporting Clube de Portugal and then, local Mohun Bagan, JCT Mills, Chirag United and Dempo, Chhetri is arguably one of BFC’s stars. He says that football was always part of him ‘by default’. With parents who were footballers themselves, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Chhetri took to the sport like a fish to water. “I come from an army background where my father served and it meant always being on the road before we finally settled down in Delhi. My father used to turn out for the army football team while my mother played the sport in Nepal,” Chhetri informs us.
The 29-year-old says that active sports ‘is one thing that makes him tick and it doesn’t matter if it’s indoors or outdoors.’ Chhetri, otherwise known for his mild manners, is nonetheless peeved by people’s addiction to their smart phones. “I really dislike the amount of time people spend on phones — me included! Proper conversations have become passe,” says the striker. As an accomplished footballer in India and having dabbled in the international scene, Chhetri is well travelled. “The sport takes me to so many wonderful places. I fell totally in love with Portugal, Spain, Sikkim and Goa. But slowly, Bangalore is joining that list too,” he shares. Though he also misses his comfortable couch at home in Delhi. “I’m not really a social person who loves club-hopping. My idea of hanging out is relaxed conversations with family and friends. Every chance I get, I call my friends over and we spend hours on the PlayStation with FIFA,” he reveals. On his BFC experience so far, he says that it’s a great side to be associated with. “I’m enjoying every bit of being part of this team. I have played in Major League Soccer in the US and at Sporting Lisbon in Portugal and I can say that the facilities at BFC is on par with my experiences abroad,” he declares.
Favourite club: Futbol Club Barcelona
Best book: Gazza: My Story
Player I admire most: Luis Ronaldo and Lionel Messi
Most loved stadium: Estadio da Luz, Lisbon
WE were quite fascinated by Robin Singh’s tattoos. A warrior on his right arm, the text of a prayer on his left, names of family members on his chest, nine stars running up his leg and the word ‘faith’ inscribed on his back. All meant to inspire and motivate him through the day, he tells us. The 23-year-old, who chose football over cricket at 13, comes from a family of footballers. His paternal grandfather Ajit Singh, represented India at the Helsinki Olympics. Told he was not good enough to be a professional player due to a missed penalty at age 14, Singh’s success story is a classic case of proving critics wrong.
“People didn’t expect me to make it big. But I stayed positive and my family stood by me,” says the bachelor who “likes intelligent girls who can hold a conversation. And resemble Deepika Padukone.” One of his most memorable matches was when he played for Chandigarh on a beach in the Andamans. “I love relaxing on a beach. Hopefully, I can travel to Brazil for the 2014 world cup,” he says. Coming from Delhi, he loves Bangalore’s weather but not the notoriously bad roads. “I play for my family and my fans, so Bangalore is working out great for me,” says the teetotaller, who claims he can beat anyone at dancing. “ I think I can outdo most professional dancers,” he laughs modestly. And to unwind? “I just get into my cool pink boxers and get on the PlayStation, watch a movie, turn on some music or cook,” he grins. mail to: email@example.com
Favourite club: Real Madrid Club de Fútbol
Best book: Just started reading I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic – could be a favourite!
Player I admire most: Ronaldo and David Beckham
Most loved stadium: Bangalore Football Stadium
DEFENDERS: John Johnson, Keegan Pereira, Rino Anto, Don Bosco Andrew, Vishal Kumar, Nanjangud Shivananju Manju, Curtis Osano, Manpreet Singh, Lalzorama Fanai
MIDFIELDERS: Malemnganba Metei, Gurtej Singh, Darren Caldeira, Thoi Singh, Beikhokhei Beingaichho, Siam Hanghal, Johnny Menyongar, Niroshan Mani, Amoes, Shankar Sampingiraj, Sampath Kuttimani
FORWARDS: Sunil Chhetri, Robin Singh, Karan Sawhney, Sean Rooney
GOALKEEPERS: Bruno Colaco, Pawan Kumar, Ricardo Cardozo