Garhwal, formerly an independent kingdom in the foothills of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand was founded by Kanakpal, the progenitor of the Panwar dynasty, in 823 AD. In 1947, when India became independent from the British Raj, Garhwal was one of the princely states that did not accede to India. It was two years later that, the 60th king of Panwar Vansh, Manvendra Shah, the last ruling Maharaja of the Garhwal Kingdom, accepted India's sovereignty.
A few years later, Kesar Singh Negi, founded Garhwal Heroes FC, a platform for young players of the Garhwali community to compete locally in Delhi. Subsequently, they were registered with the Delhi Soccer Association (DSA) and in 1986 they won the first Delhi Senior Division League title. After braving a lengthy period of financial hardship, the club once again became the Champions of Delhi in 2012-13.
Following the win, the club rechristened itself as Garhwal Football Club (GFC) in order to fulfill the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) club licensing criteria to participate in the AIFF (All India Football Federation) recognised competition.
In 2020, in the 2nd Divison I-League, the club was hitting all the right notes and was placed at the top in Group A with 14 points from seven matches until the Coronavirus pandemic forced the suspension of the competition in mid-March. Although the break-in sporting activities has hampered their preparations, the team is raring to get back on the pitch and restart their quest to book a berth in I-League.
Kishore Taid, one of the directors of the club remains upbeat about their chances and feels that it is time that the Government allows sporting outfits to at least start training.
"Live sports and international fixtures are not the only important activities. There are many livelihoods involved here at the grassroots. So many coaches are being hit financially because of the pause in sporting activities. People are going regularly to markets and other activities have resumed. Actually, this is such a small industry that it seldom attracts the attention of the government," Taid explained to Goal.
The team will retain its core members and might add an Asian overseas player before the start of the tournament as reinforcement. Their goal poacher Ekmobong Victor Philip was in fine form as he netted seven goals in as many matches and will continue to lead the lines. Nigerian defender Bala Alhassan will marshall the defence.
"We had a good squad and we were playing well as you can see that the team was on top when play had to be stopped. Definitely, our preparations have been affected due to the pandemic. But the squad knows how to stick together and the coaches are in constant touch with the players. They are keeping themselves fit and we are doing whatever that can be done remotely.
"The foreign players will remain the same. But Kazu (Kazumasa Noura) has gone home in April due to the pandemic. So currently we have two foreigners and only two can play in the starting XI. But we will be looking to add one more, and also a few domestic players as well," informed Taid.
The contracts have been extended till the end of the 2nd Division tournament and only if the club qualifies for I-League the side, will look to renew the deal with players who do not have a multiple-year agreement.
(Vikas Rawat, Coach)
Like most other outfits Garhwal has also been hit financially by the Coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, the testing costs during the tournament will burn another hole in the pocket. Taid believes that in this situation, financial management will be key for the clubs to survive as in spite of subsidies from AIFF, the revenue sources have taken a hit.
"All industries are affected due to the pandemic and we are no different. The sponsorship market has also taken a hit. So to hold the competition in a shorter format is a good idea from the federation. The cost remains the same but the revenue has gone down. It is difficult and now we have to manage our finances accordingly.
"The AIFF has already announced that they will give subsidy. Now the question is whether they will shell out more because of the pandemic. The Covid expenses will be extra and we will talk to AIFF about that. But again subsidy is not a long term solution. We should look for financial sustainability."
Coach Vikas Rawat and his assistant Arun Singh had done a phenomenal job in guiding the team to the top of the pile before the break. But the circumstances have changed and moreover, opposition teams like Mohammedan have made some blockbuster signings like Willis Plaza and Eze Kingsley to strengthen their bid for a spot in the upper-division. Ekta (Unity), Shaurya (Bravery), Vijay (Victory) are the guiding principles of the club - the time has come to live up to them on the football pitch.