After fish curry, it’s football for Churchill Brothers

May 3rd, 2009 - 1:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party By Mayabhushan Nagvenkar
Panaji, May 3 (IANS) Churchill Brothers is one of those rare family-owned football clubs that has made it really big on the national football scene. Their maiden I-League win last month shows the passion with which the Alemaos of Varca have nurtured this club since its formation in 1988.

Churchill Brothers’ win at the I-league this season may have been their first national league title, but they did come close to winning on four occasions in the past. For the Alemao siblings, their late mother Elsinda’s dream was ultimately fulfilled this year.

While other popular Goan football clubs like the Dempo Sports Club and Salgaocar Sports Club are patronised by gargantuan mining firms with significant financial backing, Churchill Brothers instead is shouldered by the six lumbering Alemao brothers, with former Goa chief minister Churchill being the head of the family.

While the club is named after the eldest sibling, Churchill, the other brothers come with equally exotic first names, a couple of which are in fact surnames of two former US presidents. There’s the physically towering Joaquim, who is the club president and also Goa’s urban development minister, Kennedy, a zilla panchayat member, Ciabro and Roosevelt who brings up the rear.

The Alemao brothers have also instituted a football tournament in Goa, named after yet another sibling, Alvernaz who died of gunshot wounds, after he was shot by a Customs official nearly two decades ago for carrying contraband.

While controversies dog the Alemaos with alarming consistency, Joaquim told IANS that they were a part and parcel of a politician’s life and that it was a footballing legacy that they hoped to leave behind.

“Football is in our blood. After a good meal of fish curry, the only thing we turn to is football,” said Joaquim, who is also the president of the Goa Football Association (GFA).

“Only we know the kind of hardship, we had to go through to take this club where it is now,” he said, adding that sourcing funds for a non-corporate football club was no joke.

Churchill Brothers first big corporate sponsor was the Zee group, back in the early nineties. But subsequent, clumsy attempts made by the club to obtain sponsorship, brought in a lot of negative publicity.

Back in 2003, elder brother Churchill, also the club’s chief patron and a self-proclaimed ’secular’ politician, openly flirted with a tottering Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state government, for a substantial state grant for the team, which had failed to find a liberal sponsor that season.

In 1999, a section of the media reported that Churchill, as state industries minister had allegedly prevented a popular multi-national aerated drinks firm from setting up a bottling-plant in Goa, allegedly for reasons related to football, rather than project inadequacies. The controversy was also discussed during a calling attention motion in the Goa legislative assembly then.

Football aficionados and critiques in Goa, claim that the club’s extravagant expenditure on players of African origin had shot up the club’s budget considerably.

“Retaining Odafe Okolie alone has cost them nearly Rs.10 million. In 2003, the club’s budget was around Rs.60 million. The figure would have doubled now, with the club’s reliance on foreign players like Felix (Chimaokwu), Ogba (Nnanna) and Odafe,” a GFA member said on condition of anonymity.

However, while refusing to specify a firm club budget, Joaquim said that the club was family for most players.

“Look Odafe stayed back with us, even though East Bengal and other clubs were offering him much more than we were. We play football from the heart. Churchill Brothers is like a family. There is no other way to explain this. We put all the money we earn in our respective businesses into the club,” Joaquim said.

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