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Techtro Swades United FC is rapidly developing as a serious force in the Indian footballing ecosystem. (Image Credit: Facebook)
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Celebrating an Indian’s surge towards gifting power back to fans through “50+1” and the SRK connect

Techtro Swades United FC is rapidly developing as a serious force in the Indian footballing ecosystem. (Image Credit: Facebook)
Neeraj Kholiya (5th from bottom left) has helped Techtro Swades United FC rapidly develop as a serious force in the Indian footballing ecosystem. (Image Credit: Facebook)

The recent uproar over the proposed European Super League (ESL) has resulted in fans questioning the decision making by their favourite clubs. One senses a distinct shift towards ensuring maximum profits rather than taking into account the desires of the supporters, as it should be. In such a scenario, the “50+1” model of ownership majorly observed in the Bundesliga has gained a lot of prominence. According to this format, the fans own a majority of the voting rights and are in charge of all the major decisions. Prominent European leagues like the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga have so far refused to implement such a format, with English football leading when it comes to the dominance of corporates.

However, the “50+1” model has steadily found acceptance in Indian football, as evident from the pursuit of Neeraj Kholiya, who is looking to develop arguably the nation’s first-ever football club operating as per the system. Kholiya is the founder and director of Techtro Swades United FC, a Himachal Pradesh-based club that has managed to progress to the I-League’s second division on the back of pure talent. The 21-year-old initially heard about the ownership style during an interaction with friends, going on to be massively influenced by the same. Kholiya has developed a team that is looking to reach out to the masses in order to involve them in every major aspect, having taken into account the massive volume of fans in India. Registration is scheduled on the basis of a model similar to that witnessed in the case of membership for a club.

While Kholiya has currently managed to set up a stable footballing structure, his journey has witnessed its fair share of challenges as elaborated on in an exclusive chat with Sportsjuana. Interestingly, the 21-year-old who is an SRK fan has enjoyed a similar experience to that of the actor in the legendary movie ‘Chak de India’.

Here are some of the excerpts from the same:

Q. How did your glorious association with football begin?

A. It all started back in 2012 when I was in the ninth standard. I was not even aware of the existence of football till then. The sports teacher came down one day and mentioned a football tournament scheduled, where all of us had to participate. I was baffled due to the lack of information enjoyed about the game. It all developed slowly and steadily as we started playing, followed by watching the game on TV regularly. My dad who is an army officer noted this interest in the game and purchased a jersey of Cristiano Ronaldo, about whom I was clueless till then. Even this changed once I surfed information about him on the internet, noting all the hard work and achievements over the years. Even my game developed over the years, emerging as the youngest footballer to be a part of the Lucknow Super Division. As I started learning more about Indian football, I noted the distinct lack of coverage of matches involving the national team. This spurred a desire to set up a youtube channel that would cater to the same.

Q. Can you take us through your journey as a Youtuber looking to serve Indian football?

A. I am originally a very shy person with very few friends. However, this soon changed after I decided to start a youtube channel that would broadcast matches of the national team. The name of the channel was Techtro as it sounded catchy and interesting. The purpose was to upload videos involving discussions around Indian football or the players themselves. The U-17 World Cup hosted by India marked a major turning point in this regard. I was fortunate to receive assistance from members of the team, who backed this initiative. They sent me videos that were edited and uploaded resulting in a great response.

I streamed matches from the tournament, going on to develop the initiative further by covering games as extensively as possible. My channel was the only one that streamed India’s triumph against Argentina at 2 in the morning, which certainly makes me proud. My modus operanda was to contact fans living in the nation where the game was being conducted, requesting them to record the game on their mobiles. We enjoyed a great deal of viewership, with lakhs of views on a frequent basis. However, it all came crashing one day after Youtube decided to delete the channel, citing copyright issues. While it was a massive blow psychologically, I decided to focus my passion and earnings towards another direction with the objective of serving Indian football.

Q. What was the reaction of your parents towards such initiatives?

A. I have skipped job interviews which were quite lucrative in order to participate in a certain tournament. This has been possible only because of the support of my parents. They have urged me to hold no regrets in life at any stage, backing the decisions through thick and thin.

Q. How did the idea of starting your own football club develop during a phrase when you were deeply hurt?

A. I was just thinking about ways to serve Indian football when suddenly the lack of opportunities to local players in Luckow hit me hard. It was a major area of concern, spurring a desire to start a club called Techtro Swades United FC. There was a lot of talent in the city which includes my former teammates, who were unable to showcase their capabilities due to the lack of opportunities. I steadily approached such players and convinced them about my desire to set up a club that would provide the right platform. The initial days were tough. I was the manager, ball boy, video analyst, basically the single man expected to fulfil every responsibility. It was also a matter of great fortune to have players who never complained about anything and were simply happy to get a chance to become professionals. They were very empathetic in their approach and never demanded a certain kind of luxury while travelling for tournaments. I was happy to pay from my savings, but they were persistent about limiting my expenditure incurred.

Slowly and steadily, the team started winning tournaments with the prize money utilised to purchase equipment. It was a wonderful experience. We finished as runners up in the first-ever edition of Himachal Football League, suffering a defeat against a team that included players from different states barring a single player. However, the real turning point was the two weeks spent in Punjab, with a friendly against Minerva Punjab’s senior team being the game-changer.

Q. What was the significance of those two weeks and the encounter in your journey so far?

A. The team was invited for a period of two weeks down to Chandigarh, where we were supposed to play matches against the reserve team as well as Minerva Punjab’s senior team. The team had recently being crowned I-League champions, indicating the quality enjoyed. My players trained on a daily basis, rather than looking to take it lightly so that we were at our best in those encounters. The efforts paid off in the match against the reserve team, with the opposition pushed to the hilt on the back of a fine performance. However, the encounter against the senior players was going to be a different ball game altogether as we realised in the first minute, conceding a goal. There was a stop in play soon after due to an injury sustained, which is when I pulled my players together. They were confused and looked down on confidence, with regard to negotiating an opposition at this level.

At this point, I delivered a speech that makes me proud: “If we beat the Minerva senior team, we will script history by defeating them at their own home ground. We are playing against a side that includes players who have represented India. You did not even play on a ground of this level two months back. I am not worried whether you concede 8 or 10 goals, all I desire is a 100 percent commitment.” This worked wonders as we delivered an impressive performance despite rotating the squad throughout the 90 minutes, with a 14-year-old kid on the field at one stage. The conclusion of the game saw the opposition senior players clapping loudly in admiration, hailing our performance. There could not have been a bigger reward than this, and the fruits of our labour had certainly paid off.

Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj soon called me over having been impressed by the spirit on show. He displayed an eagerness to provide complete support and the glorious association continues till now. Mr Bajaj’s assistance has been vital in helping the club reach this level of success for sure.

Q. What are the challenges that you faced along this journey?

A. We had to face a lot of criticism and discrimination due to local politics. Established local clubs tried to vilify my intentions, terming me as a fraudster who would deceive the players and run away. They said I was just a youngster and lacked experience, which would see my lads soon return back for opportunities in the established clubs. A lot of rumours and accusations were hurled behind my back, but my players backed me through thick and thin. The COVID-19 pandemic provided a fresh opportunity for people to raise questions about our football club. However, we took full advantage of the scenario, organising online lessons during the lockdown with free internet recharge made available.

Q. What is the influence behind the club’s name and which are the values it stands for?

A. Techtro Swades United FC brings together all aspects which are close to my heart. The first word Techtro is a reference to my youtube channel that looked to serve Indian football as much as possible. Swades United indicates the values of unity, brotherhood and equality that we believe in to the core. Equality extends with regard to opportunities for talent across genders. We have supported footballers through thick and thin, providing a way out from the life of poverty they were subjected to. It feels quite emotional when I remember the gratitude shown, after being provided with an opportunity to exhibit talent.

A desire to provide opportunities to talents from all parts of the nation through camps and financial assistance persists. We are also working towards projects that can boost the popularity of Futsal, considering the massive potential it enjoys. Emerging footballers in Brazil are encouraged to play Futsal for every second of their lives, developing a degree of fluidity and composure. A similar attitude in Indian football might well serve the future of the game to an unimaginable extent.


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