With the reports of FC Pune City being on the verge of shutting down operations gathering pace, yet another football club from Maharashtra’s second largest city is about to bite the dust.
The Indian Super League (ISL) franchise’s financial struggles have been ongoing for some time now with the entire season five being riddled with reports of non-payments of salaries to the players and coaching staff.
As and when a new investor is found, the Stallions will become the fourth top-tier club from Pune to wind down operations in recent history. The city did not really boast of a strong football tradition before 2007 when the Ashok Piramal Group set up Pune FC.
One of the first fully professional clubs in the country, Pune FC made rapid strides and earned promotion to the I-League first division in 2009. There were many things the club got right in their brief existence including the setting up of an excellent youth academy.
They even managed to finish as high as third in their debut season in the top-tier of the I-League before achieving a second-place finish in the 2012-13 season. However, just two years later, Pune FC shut down operations and their academy was sold to ISL outfit FC Pune City.
Despite adopting a highly professional approach, the club ownership were disillusioned with the state of Indian football. With next to zero revenue streams for clubs, lack of broadcasting rights and no marketing plan, Pune FC’s owners felt there was a lack of vision or a roadmap for Indian football as a whole, which led them to believe that investing further in top flight wouldn’t make sense.
It was a different story for Bharat FC who became the second Pune club to participate in the top-tier of the I-League in 2014.
The club was formed in 2014 by the Kalyani group and were given a direct entry to the I-League first division but withdrew from the competition after just one season. The club finished bottom of the table despite spending heavily before fading away into oblivion just months later.
Then there was DSK Shivajians who were handed promotion to the I-League top tier in 2016. The club had been in existence since 1987 but gained prominence in 2013 after being acquired by the DSK group. They too, like Pune FC, invested heavily in their youth setup and even ran a state-of-the-art academy in partnership with Premier League giants Liverpool.
The club was given entry to the I-League top tier in 2015 but pulled out just two seasons later after going into financial turmoil. That story is now being repeated again with FC Pune City in the ISL as the long wait for Pune to have a sustainable top-tier club continues.
While Bharat FC’s demise was more a case of financial mismanagement, the likes of DSK Shivajians and FC Pune City have all fallen away after being unable to keep up with the financial demands of running a top-tier club. Pune FC, on the oher hand, were disillusioned.
Football fans in the city can’t really complain about the lack of effort from the owners, but for some reason or the other, it has always been a sad ending. With the past examples all being a sorry tale, will Pune ever boast about a top-tier football club again?