Younten Tshedup | Gelephu
As cliche as it might seem – they came, they saw, and they conquered! This sums up the journey of Paro Football Club.
The club joined the top guns in the business after securing a spot in the national league last year. The journey thereon has been nothing short of a fairy tale.
In its debut appearance in the country’s biggest league, Paro FC finished runners up after a close title contest against Thimphu City FC in 2018.
It became hungrier for success and invested more in players and resources. It paid off as they claimed the national league title in the most dominating fashion, losing only one game of the 18, in only its second attempt.
Additionally, the club also clenched the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck Memorial Gold Cup this year.
The cherry topping on it all was the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) award for the grassroots club award and Bhutan Football Federation’s (BFF) best-managed club award for the 2019 season.
How it all began
A family’s craze for football and the strong desire to give back to the society gave birth to the club.
Club president, Karma Jigme recalls how he and his cousins would stay up late night to watch the English Premier League (EPL) on television.
“As a child I always watched football. I wanted to play but given the lack of infrastructure I couldn’t,” he said. “But football lived in me. We would closely follow EPL games and had always wanted to get a feel of having a club of our own.” So one night the cousins decided to form a football club.
“Fortunately, we managed to get into the national league in the first year. We knew it would take a team to raise this club,” he said. “From eight of us who initially started the club, we now have nine who manage this club together.”
Giving it back to the society
Paro FC is the only club in the country to have its own football ground. However, Karma Jigme said that the Woochu football arena in Paro, home of Paro FC, belongs to the community and the school that was made the custodian of the ground by the community decades ago.
The ground recently received a major facelift with astro-turf and floodlights along with other essential facilities like locker rooms, toilets and a conference room, among others.
“Football has given us an opportunity to pay back to the society,” he said, adding that the club was formed with an objective to change the football scenario in the country.
Quality domestic leagues are key to producing a stronger national team. Until recently clubs from Thimphu dominated the national league. After Ugyen Academy FC from Punakha in 2014 won the national league, Paro FC is the second club outside the capital to win the title.
Not so long ago, Karma Jigme said that clubs outside Thimphu performed poorly in the leagues and the BFF at one point of time told teams from outside to improve their game quality if they wanted to be a part of the national league.
“This was a driving force that really motivated us to perform well,” he said. “The idea then was to stay in the top four. But we managed to come second and that was the experience that we could take it forward in 2019 season. We really wanted to win this season and accordingly we worked towards our aim.”
He said that today most of the clubs outside Thimphu are doing well. But to make it even better, these clubs need support from the football institutions, he added.
“In the last two years football have drastically changed and to further improve the quality we need the support of people who can invest in the sport and also the media.”
Football: an expensive affair?
Money is not everything, but it helps you achieve more and better results, said the president.
The president, who is also a businessman and an entrepreneur was often asked why he invests in football despite no returns. “But when it comes to football, it’s different. We knew that there is no money here, but we anyhow went ahead for the want of happiness we get from this game.”
“With every win you get a joy. Every time you talk to your players you get that happiness which I’m sure it’s difficult to get from any other materialistic ventures.”
Investment in the youth is essential, he said. “I think this is the way forward. Those who can have to invest in the potential of our youth and only then we will have a healthy and meaningful youth group who can actually be productive.”
Sustainability, however, remains a question if things are not planned well said Karma Jigme. The club spent over Nu 4 million on the club this season. “The next season expenses are just going to grow, but the good thing is that we have all sorted it out. We want to make this club sustainable in the long run and we’re on track.”
The national league champions are scheduled to play against Defenders FC of Sri Lanka in the first game of AFC preliminary qualifications for the 2020 AFC Cup on January 22 in Sri Lanka.
The home match will be on January 29.
The winner will face Bengaluru FC in the second preliminary.
Karma Jigme said that preparations are in full swing. “Although not major changes, we might be adding in some new players for the competition.”
International players are also being considered.