12 years ago, in 2008, Prashant Singh was circling the air space of US. Studying and later on working as a flight instructor, he was helping people learn the art of flying the big bird. Though not a Top Gun Maverick, Prashant had his ideas about becoming one of the finest flight instructor.
Everything was going on well but the requirement of visa renewals, sub prime crisis and a global economic melt down quickly brought his high flying life to a stand still. Prashant came back to Thane, his home town in India. During this phase, he started helping some kids in his locality to learn football. What started as a part time activity to keep himself engaged and also to give some tips to kids who love to play football, soon became the main ‘affair’.
This decade long journey has now reached to the beginning of a new chapter. Thane City FC, a football club with a dream to play the Asian Football Club Champions League by 2030s. Yes, it is a distant dream however the plan is convincing to achieve it. Hopefully a first for a club from Thane.
It was in 2011, Prashant got an opportunity to appear for the WIFA D license certification. This was the beginning of his professional coaching career.
One of the major difference between the footballing system in India and other countries is the age at which the game is introduced to the child. As per FIFA, Grassroots football for boys and girls should begin from 6-12 years. Prashant has been working on grassroots football for the last 10 years. The one of a kind football academy Soccer Cubs started in Thane and later on Ultra Sports India, coaching kids and helping them learn the nuances of the beautiful game – football. He was also the person associated with FBG FCM (For the better of the game) club.
“The children want to see another child with them. They want to have a bigger child playing with them and helping the play. That is my biggest skillset more than my coaching badges. You should learn how to be a child with children.” talks about the joy of coaching and skillset required to connect with the kids.
Prashant has been part of another first that happened in Thane some 15 years ago. He was part of the first Thane rock band performance, which took place in a make shift arrangement. The flight instructor has an affinity towards music and is a wonderful drummer. In those days, his parents were shocked to see their son buying a drum kit instead of a mobile and pursuing his passion for music.
In an interesting conversation with Prashant, he shared the journey of last 10 years and how Thane City FC will shape up as one of its kind Football Club.
“In US, I completed the flight certifications and was helping the freshers to learn. I was around 20 years old then and realized my love for teaching” – shared Prashant as to when he understood his liking towards teaching and which later on aided him to be a coach.
He used to play cricket in US with the local community. They had players like Ramnaresh Sarvan who used to come and practice in the nets. “The way in which the community as well as the policy makers supported a sport like cricket in US was an eye opener for me.” He also used to play football for the amateur leagues.
“Your game becomes a weekend affair for even the families to come together.” added Prashant.
This is the another aspect of grassroots football. The community coming together to support the sport. This is very essential in creating the support system which comprises of parents, sports and fitness enthusiasts, coaches, and people from the society.
Thane City FC was launched in March, 2020.
“Usually clubs are formed with a top down approach. First the senior team is launched and then they start working on the youth team, academy, etc. Community comes in the end. Thane City FC is formed keeping in mind a bottom up approach. We have built a community and will use that as a base to develop our club.” said Prashant about the structure and plans for the club.
Each aspect of the club is well planned starting from the logo unit. The logo comprises aspects which touch upon the facets of Thane, football, etc. The club has got the confidence and support from the players, parents as well as sponsors.
India’s leading sports company, Punjab based Nivia sports is the kit sponsor. They have signed a two year sponsorship deal with the club.
Nivia Sports has an interesting history. The way in which Sh. Vijay Kharabanda, the founder of Nivia Sports build this sporting brand has a lot of similarity to the current plans of Thane City FC. This might be one of the reasons they have believed in the dreams of Prashant and his team. The club merchandise is already made available online.
Thane City FC has laid out plans to bring about more open discussions in areas which were not much spoken out in the sporting field. Talking about the unique initiatives, he added “We have conducted sessions on menstruation cycle and the performance related concerns, how each person have their own thoughts around this, etc.”.
Brushing aside the few negative comments initially received on this initiative, Thane City FC has garnered positive response from many people across the nation as well as from international universities for initiating discussions around this topic which is still considered as a taboo or a behind the door topic.
“These are the few things we are planning to do on a regular basis in Thane City FC to bring in a holistic approach to football. In addition to this, we had recently conducted an internal session to understand the transgender community and will be doing external sessions soon.” said Prashant.
Prashant got the much required exposure in the last 2 years when he got an opportunity to work with Delhi Football Association and later on with Odisha Women’s Football coaching. “It helped me understand a lot of things. It gave me a platform to enhance my connections and understand the challenges faced by different sectors” added Prashant.
Thane , the city known for its lakes, has steadily seen a surge in the number of turfs which have popped up in many malls and residential areas. Prashant and his team has definitely played a major role in creating an ecosystem which has augmented the interest for this game in Thane. Prashant added on how Thane has always been a special place for football action:-
“Thane was a hot bed for weekend football tournaments even before the turfs culture”
He mentioned that Ultra Sports has worked as a launch pad for some of the employees. Prashant is completely okay with this idea. He wants people with zeal to be part of the academy, learn, coach kids, improve their own coaching skills and move ahead, if they get better opportunities with bigger clubs.
This thought process of enhancing the football ecosystem is what has aided Prashant to dream big.
It will be a joy to watch a club from the city of Thane playing in the AFC competitions.
The patience garnered during his flight instruction days is definitely helping Prashant to plan and build his dream. It took him 10 years to inculcate the culture of getting young kids to learn football. The next 10 years will see the slow and steady growth of Thane City FC. It won’t be long before we get to witness Thane City FC capturing the news headlines by winning major titles one at a time. The derby between Mumbai City FC and Thane City FC is definitely going to be a head turner in the coming years.
From appearing for his D license session which was sponsored by Nivia to founding a football club that has signed a two year sportswear deal with Nivia, it is the perfect prelude to this new dream journey.
The flight is getting ready to take off again with pilot Prashant and his crew.
Touch down, touch line, take off: The action begins again from the city of Lakes, Thane.