Goa to Britain: The level playing field

Prasun Sonwalkar
Filed on April 22, 2021

Goans in the UK formed a proper football club, the Goans United FC in 2020

The tens of thousands of Goans who migrated to Britain brought their passion for football along, and it was a matter of time before they formed a team and entered the vibrant football leagues in Britain — after all, football is to Britain what cricket is to India. After years of informally playing in open spaces in London, Swindon and elsewhere, the idea of a proper club found support in the community and the Goans United FC was formed in October 2020.

Goa is one of the Indian states where the beautiful game is more popular than cricket. Goa won the Santosh Trophy four times and hosted it twice. Older migrants remember the days of football fever when the trophy was hosted for the first time in 1972-73, when West Bengal was the winner. Several Goan players have represented India over the decades: One of them, striker Dawson Fernandes, is among those who migrated to Britain in 2016. In the domestic season, he played for Salgaoncar and Sporting Goa.

The Goans United FC team, which includes Fernandes and others who are employed in various roles in London, has been playing in the Middlesex County Football League. The head coach is Cedric Peixoto and Shawn Lobo is the assistant coach. By December 2020, the team was in the second place among 12 teams with 16 points from six games in the league, winning five and drawing one. It had the same points as the top team, Whistlers, but was second in the table due to goal difference.

Fernandes, 30, who hails from Navelim, says: “I played in 2017 in a match in Indian Gymkhana and wondered why not have a team comprising Goans. There are so many good players in our community in London, Swindon; football runs in our blood. Many have played for professional clubs in India. We did well in our first season in the county leagues, before the Covid-19 pandemic cancelled the season. Our idea was to keep the tradition of Goan football alive, get the community to play together, not just work. It is difficult because we don’t have sponsors, we contribute ourselves. The plan is to encourage under-7 and under-12 players and if any of them get picked up by scouts and join academies it would be great for Goan football.”

The team is currently playing in the Covid Cup with teams ranked higher, but has been holding its own. The next fixture is on April 24 against Ruislip FC at the Spikes Bridge Park in Southall. The team won the last encounter 3-2 against Rajputs Del Mundo FC in the Cranford Community College ground in Hounslow, with Samward Pareira scoring twice and Elvis Barreto once. The Covid Cup is being held according to FA rules, Fernandes says. Playing in the Covid Cup, the Goans United FC’s matches are streamed live on Facebook, attracting much interest and audience in Goa. No spectators are allowed in person during the encounters, but that has not dampened the enthusiasm of the players.

Prashant Kirtani, a Panaji-based civil engineer, is not surprised that the Goan migrants have formed a football team of their own after migrating to Britain. He says: “Football is in our culture. In the villages, boys and men had the use of open fields and free time (no work before sowing season). Many players distinguished themselves not only in football but also went on to set records in athletics, such as Morgan Viegas and Victor Vaz.”

The Goans United FC team playing in Southall also resonates in history. The Southall FC, based in the heart of the Punjabi community in the area also known as ‘Little India’, was founded in 1871, making it one of the oldest football clubs in England. Celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2021, the club has been playing in the Combined Counties League Premier Division, in which it finished fourth before the season was abandoned due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Several descendants of Indian immigrants have played for England in cricket: Monty Panesar, Vikram Solanki, Raman Subba Row, Nasser Hussain, Min Patel. It may not be long before a player from the Goan community turns out for top football clubs and England.

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