Nestled within the bustling arenas of BBFS, exist stories about sheer resilience and dedication, representing individuals brave enough to carve out their destinies. Amidst them stands Evans Thomas, whose role in shaping Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools (BBFS) goes beyond conventional boundaries. Nurturing 3000+ young talents and empowering about 250 coaches takes a generous amount of unparalleled dedication, and Evans is the man for the job. His story exemplifies how deep-seated love for the game goes beyond mere passion.
But Evans’ journey isn’t just about the game; it’s a testament to perseverance and personal growth.
Early triumphs and setbacks
It’s safe to say that Evans embarked on a path that shaped his passion long before he made his imprint at the institution. During his final year of high school, he attained a significant milestone when he won a Nike competition. This event handpicked a single player from every Southeast Asian country for an exclusive two-week training camp hosted in Barcelona. In 2007, Evans proudly represented India as the sole participant selected for this coveted opportunity.
He pursued his college education at the University of Liverpool, and struck a balance between academia and the football pitch. Evans vividly recalls those years, navigating university life while donning the jersey for a semi-pro club in the 6th-7th division.
However, in 2011, life threw Evans a curveball in the form of a ligament injury that disrupted his path to a professional football career. Undeterred, he returned to the game to give it another shot. Unfortunately, this resulted in another injury. By 2012, it became evident that Evans couldn’t play at a professional level anymore. The years that followed were challenging, to say the least. It took a lot out of someone whose entire life had revolved around the game.
But like I said earlier, only a few are brave enough to carve out their own destinies. And Evans was one of them.
After making peace with the setback, he turned towards academic pursuits and corporate ventures, but it didn’t stick. “I did all the boring stuff – MBA, sales and marketing. I did not like it.”, chuckles Evans. “In 2016 I was working as a sales and business head at an IT company in Dubai. And I woke up one day and realised I didn’t want to do it anymore. So, I quit!”
In 2017, his dormant passion for football reignited and led Evans back to the field—this time, at the Kerala Blasters Academy, where he worked as an Operations Manager. “It was definitely better than working in IT”, he confesses.
However, Evans reveals that he didn’t see a long term vision. “I’m grateful for my opportunity at the Kerala Blasters Academy, but it wasn’t a sustainable project. And I wanted to work with the youth at a grassroot level”.
It was in 2018 that Evans found his true calling at BBFS. This was primarily because BBFS shared his vision to shape the future of football in India. During his interview, Evans found himself amidst the team on a particularly special evening. It was a night when the results of three senior coaches had just been announced, and everyone decided to head out for some celebratory drinks. In the midst of this gathering, Evans, who, at that point, wasn’t entirely sure about joining the academy, experienced a shift in perspective. Sitting among approximately 20 passionate individuals, the conversation focused entirely on football. The discussions were about making a profound impact at the grassroots level, how they could coach better and nurture young talent, and secure additional resources for youth development. Their unwavering dedication and collective vision were evident as they tirelessly brainstormed until the sunrise. Reflecting on that pivotal moment, Evans reveals, “they were passionate and they had a vision, and that’s when I knew for sure that this is where I wanted to be. I arrived in Delhi thinking this would be a six-month stint, but here I am – it’s been six years!”
Embracing a culture of growth
At BBFS, Evans discovered more than an opportunity; he found a culture that fosters freedom, diverse projects, and personal growth. “I understood the word ‘culture’ better after I joined the academy. BBFS gives its people freedom to work when they want, how they want, take up a variety of projects, and follow your passion. It gave me an opportunity to grow as a person. I don’t think I could ask for anything more.”
When asked about what he enjoys most about his role at BBFS, Evans shares, “I transitioned from a lucrative career, which raised a lot of eyebrows from friends and family. But I knew what I wanted to do. Although I began with a passion for working in football, it has since evolved into a far more fulfilling job. Now, I can provide my coaches and students with the kind of support that I lacked as a young footballer. Football gave me direction and purpose, and kept me away from troublesome situations”.
Evans’ tenure at BBFS has been marked by personal growth and fulfilment. Witnessing players evolve from academy initiates to professional athletes has been immensely rewarding. He takes pride in individuals like Akshay Unni, a coach who transitioned from part-time coaching to leading a victorious team in the Delhi Women’s league. “And that’s just one person’s story. There’s many more. Their wins, their growth – these things come up when I think about the best part of my job.”
Weathering the storm together
What truly solidified Evans’ commitment to BBFS was the organization’s resilience and compassion during the pandemic-induced lockdowns. While many institutions faltered, BBFS stood firm, prioritising its people, and ensuring their well-being despite financial constraints. BBFS retained 80-90% of its employees even with the pay cuts. These were people with family and kids, and they chose to be here. “It’s like nobody actually stopped working. Even when things looked hopeless, no one raised their voice, or sounded defeated.” Having a set of 200 people to work like nothing happened, conducting online sessions, speaking to kids and their parents, zoom workouts, building an app for kids to workout at home- this unwavering dedication of the team during a tumultuous period Evans’s belief in the institution’s unbreakable spirit. “It was a huge effort during an incredibly stressful, challenging and emotional time, when the world was crumbling. The value of that is hard to compute”, says Evans emotionally. “After things got back to normal, we felt unbreakable. Because if we could go through this the way we did, we could do anything.”
Addressing his relationship with his colleagues, Evans confesses that he doesn’t get to spend time with them as much as he’d like to because the team is so big in size and spread out throughout the country. However, since he communicates with the coaches and staff frequently, Evans admits that his bond with the BBFS staff is familial. “We’re like those cousins that live abroad- when we meet it’s like nothing has changed!”
Leading by example
Evans acknowledges that he’s grown a lot over the past 6 years. The absence of a strict hierarchy allowed the team to welcome him into the leadership circle, despite being just 29 years of age. His role parallels BBFS’ expansion, and it involves managing football programs across multiple cities, fostering a team, and sharing his expertise. A job like Evans’, where he gets to manage a football program in 10-15 cities, doesn’t really exist anywhere else at a professional level in the country. Since he couldn’t be everywhere, he built various systems and processes, and hired the right people to carry the operations successfully. His role is now a leadership role. “I help look for people who really want to do the job and I help them do it,” says Evans.
When asked about his insights and learnings during his time at BBFS, Evans wisely sheds light on the importance of long term planning and effective communication. “It’s about the long game to get to where you want to be – you don’t get there without long term thinking and planning. That’s where most coaches or players falter. You can face some temporary setback and decide to give up on something. But you never know what you want might just be around the corner. That has helped me and BBFS grow too.”
Explaining the importance of interpersonal skills, Evans reminds us how despite the advancements in systems, processes, and technology, football remains deeply rooted in human interaction. “It’s your empathy, your guidance, your ability to hold the ship with calm that dictates your success. Human endeavour is the real win here.”
Values over valuation
If there’s one message Evans wishes to convey to those considering joining BBFS, it’s that time is precious and irreversible. He advises everyone to think about what they really want from life, not just in terms of a job but as a fulfilling career. Instead of only considering BBFS, he suggests aligning personal goals with the Academy’s values. “If your goals match with what BBFS offers, there are plenty of chances to achieve your dreams within your time there.”
In order to understand Evans’ impact at BBFS, I reached out to Mr Sunil Patwal, the Technical Director of BBFS Coincidentally, Mr Patwal was responsible for hiring Evans. He shares, “the team needed a technical manager who could bring a process-oriented approach with a long-term vision. Evans is very calm and composed, he thinks a lot about the long term, and he takes time to understand things before making a decision. He is very clear cut.” His expertise in devising technical plans for coach and player development, coupled with his experience and qualifications immediately set Evans apart and got him the job .
Addressing the coaching philosophy at BBFS, Mr Patwal elaborates that it revolves around nurturing young talent and fostering a culture of learning and growth. BBFS shapes more than just footballers; it moulds well-rounded individuals ready to face life’s challenges. “We look for a good human first, whether his values align with the game. We examine if they can help develop the young players. Our motto is first focused on values, and then the skillset. That’s why I hired Evans.”
Evans Thomas’ time at BBFS embodies passion, determination, and an unwavering commitment to shaping futures—one player, one coach, one dream at a time.
Know more about Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools (BBFS)
Read the last five editions from The Dugout: