It’s been a season of high spirits, bright victories, and iconic comebacks for the Garhwal Heroes Football Club, a sister concern of Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools (BBFS). With the women’s team winning the Delhi State Women’s Premier League and the men’s team taking home the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Memorial Cup, this has been a triumphant start to the season for the unit. After talking to their proud coaches, I have enough ammo to reveal the secret behind our teams’ domination on the field and how they got there. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

A family destined for success

To begin, let’s talk about our young and fierce tigresses of Garhwal United Football Club (GUFC).  With 12 teams contending for the title, the matches commenced on October 8th and continued until November 10th 2023. During this period, our team scored an astonishing 77 goals in 12 matches. With no losses to account for, GUFC won 11 out of the 12 matches and settled for a draw in one encounter. Talking about the finals, Rangers FC took an early lead, but GUFC  immediately caught up when Sanfida Nongrum (Polly) scored the equaliser

The match was a draw until the 90th minute when Monisha Singha scored the winning goal. 

Shruti Kumari made history in the tournament by scoring the quickest goal ever recorded, hitting the net within the first minute of a match and establishing the momentum for Garhwal FC’s dominant performance. This feat occurred in the final league match against City FC.

The girls bagged 34 points, which was the most for any team in the league and had the best goal difference. Four of the players scored more than 10 goals. 

Let’s take a look at the league statistics to understand Garhwal FC’s impressive prowess on the field:

Matches Played: 12
Matches Won: 11
MatcheDrawn: 1
Matches Lost: 0
Goals Scored: 77
Goals Conceded: 3
Goal Difference: 74
Points Earned: 34

Coach Akshay Unni gives us more insight on this: “We let our attackers go for it. ‘Just play’, we told them. We gave them a sense of freedom, and I think that made all the difference.”

The Garhwal FC women’s squad was represented by the following champs:

Sakshi, Jeewanti, Deepika, Ribahunshisha, Snafida, Fragrancy, Achala, Anjali, Anjana, Nibha, Ruby, Esther, Shruti K, Laraplang, Lhingneilam, Jennifer, Ribansi, Monisha, Shruti, Nitu, Asha, Tarini, Pallavi, Khushboo, Nadiya, and Mitali.

From this lot, nine players started their football career at the BBFS Residential Academy in Nashik, Maharashtra. 

Amidst all the numbers and strategies discussed, I asked the coach what his favourite part of the match was, and he shed light on the age difference between the  finalists, i.e, the Rangers were aged 22 and above and had represented India, while GUFC consisted of players between the ages of 14-15! 

“Having trained for just 3 months, the courage displayed by the girls in their first big match was nothing less than incredible. We understood each other so well, there was so much support. In fact the opponents also complimented our team on how this is what women’s football should be all about”, says Coach Unni, beaming with utmost pride.

From training to triumph

The women’s team under Coach Unni’s leadership, finished second in the league last year, which ruled them out of the Indian Women’s League – the top-most tier of women’s football in India. 

Talking about the loss they faced last season, I asked him what the team did differently this year, to which Coach Unni revealed that they had very little preparation time last year, and his primary focus had been on building the team’s technical aspects.

However, this year he put his energy and time into building human connections and exploring leadership tactics. The emphasis was on understanding their needs rather than telling them what to do. Instead of solely aiming to elevate their skills, the focus was on cultivating them as well-rounded individuals and improving their trust in one another. “I think I learned more from them than the other way around.”, he says with nothing but sheer sincerity.

For anyone who follows women’s football, this win is a reminder that age is just a number. And with proper training in the right environment, the sky is the only limit. Many of the girls who were a part of the squad trained at  BBFS Residential Academy before the start of the season. 

In other news, winning the Delhi State Women’s Premier League also means that the team now qualifies for the second division of the Indian Women’s League (IWL). We’re hopeful, and proud, and can’t wait to see our fierce team do what they do best! 

Setting the tone for the upcoming season

Next up, let’s delve into the success story of our Garhwal Heroes FC, who recently emerged champions at the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Memorial Cup that took place from November 3rd to November 13th. 

In an unforgettable display of vanquish, the men’s team made comebacks stronger than a 90’s trend. I spoke to Coach Vivek about the big win, and he took me through the technical and emotional aspects of the tournament. But more on that, later!

First, let’s take a look at the format of the matches:

  • Pre Quarter Final Knockout matches
  • Quarter Final League (comprising 2 groups with 4 teams in each group)
  • Two teams from each group would qualify for knockout Semi-Final matches
  • The winner of the Semi-Finals would play the Final match of the tournament.

Garhwal cruised to the semi-finals after defeating the likes of the Indian Air Force (Delhi), Sudeva Delhi FC, CISF Protectors, and the Royal Rangers. 

Contending against I-League-based Delhi FC in the semis, both teams reached a tie (2:2) and Garhwal Heroes secured a victory through penalties.

Later, in the finals against the Royal Rangers, they claimed another win via penalties following a 1:1 draw. Sumit Ghosh stood out as the highest scorer with 4 goals under his wing.  

Upon questioning coach Vivek about what he took away from the match, he emphasises on how this win gained the team enough confidence for the upcoming Delhi Senior Division League. He explained how this tournament was experimental in the sense that he wanted to observe which players were competent enough to represent Garhwal Heroes FC in the league (we’ve been aiming to qualify for 3rd division in December)

While we celebrate the success of the team, I was curious to understand the planning and training that went into it. “My strategy was simple”, says Coach Vivek. “It was to build up from the goalkeeper and reach the attacking half as soon as possible, and to be creative and aggressive while in the attacking third.” Essentially, he aimed for his team to start their play from the back, move forward swiftly, and attack fiercely when they were near the opponent’s goal.

Since a lot of young, new players represented the team, the coach relays an important detail: “The aim is to get the best out of them, to understand their strengths and weaknesses. I expect a lot but I also give them scope of error. I boost their confidence because I believe in their potential.”

Coach Vivek also gave a proud shoutout to 17-year-old Ritchie Kharbani, a BBFS Residential Academy player, who scored the winning goal in the 90th minute. He was a substitute who was sent in during the 70th minute of the match! Talk about big moves.

Strategy, goals, and ambition

When it came to sharing his insights about the team’s performance in the tournament, the coach shared his honest learnings. Looking back, the team initially had communication issues and struggled with trust and alignment among players in the first match. Despite this, a notable positive was our ability to consistently score goals. Viraj Bandhari, a long-standing player in the club, went from being vice-captain to team leader, showcasing his loyalty and experience. 

Also, it was a proud moment for our boys at BBFS Residential Academy, as 12-13 players moved up to the GHFC team, highlighting the academy’s dedication to nurturing talent.

And before we forget, we’d like to send out the heartiest congratulations to our heroes this season: Jaideep Singh, Kyntiewshaphrang Kharlukhi, Nirmal Singh, Mohit Mittal, Robinson Singh, Thingnam Radhakanta Singh, Ajin Tom, Amit Tudu, Neeraj Bhandari, Milind Negi and Lalmuansanga. Substitutes for the team included Deepanshu Lala, Vansh Kaushal, Bharat Mehra, K Lalremmuana, Arjun Singh, Richie Kharbani, Sumit Ghosh, Suraj Rasaili and Syed Shoaib.

With the Delhi Premier League in motion, the preparations are in full swing, “We started with a win. The plan is to implement the same ideas on the field and play possession-based football with creativity, and build characters on and off the field”, the coach unveils.

The Garhwal teams have shown us what true perseverance looks like. As we celebrate these achievements, let’s also acknowledge the sheer determination and resilience displayed by the players and their coaches. These victories not only inspire us to push boundaries but also helps us encourage young talents to pursue football.

And to our champions, your dedication and passion continue to light up the field and inspire the future of football.

You make us proud!

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