The charm of Bhopal is such that anyone who has experienced life there is likely to fall in love with the city. The serene evenings spent at Bada Talab (Upper Lake) and Chota Talab (Lower Lake) are etched in the memories of those who have had the pleasure of being there. It’s from this tranquil setting that a group of dedicated individuals is striving to put Bhopal on the Indian football map.
Lake City FC, the newest entrant in the Indian football arena, made noise for all the right reasons in the past year. A little more than a year-old club won the Bhopal League as well the Madhya Pradesh Premier League in their inaugural edition and played the I-League 3 group stages. They went on to finish the campaign unbeaten, with 2 wins and 2 draws.
Only a handful of clubs made their presence felt in the national stage from Madhya Pradesh. MP United FC and Pride Sports FC never made any impact in the 2nd division I-league as both of those two clubs failed to win even a single point from the group stage matches. Madhya Bharat SC came with a lot of hopes, however, due to some unfortunate circumstances the club was shut down. Then came Madan Maharaj FC which participated in the 2021 I-League qualifiers. With the legend Mehtab Hossain as the captain, Madan Maharaj qualified for the final stages of the qualifiers. The 2021 campaign of Madan Maharaj has been the best by any club from Madhya Pradesh so far in Indian football. However, after that season, not much is heard about them.
Unlike other clubs of Bhopal or Madhya Pradesh, Lake City FC have a long-term plan. This club is a passion project of the owners of Jagran Lake City University, the same team that owns the Delhi Public School of Bhopal. The vision is to give more opportunities to the players of the state who have been playing for the outstation clubs since the beginning.
“90% of our players are from MP and we are proud it”, said Aman, the Secretary of the club.
“We are here to stay. At Lake City FC, we have adequate infrastructure at our disposal. The campus of Jagran Lake City University itself has football grounds and gyms. If the fields of the associated schools are also counted, then Lake City FC have 4 standard football grounds for their practice and matches. The whole operation of the team can be done from the campus itself, and this helps us to save money that needs to be spent for renting out such facilities. We aim to give the best to our players, be it kits, rooms for stay, or the training field”
The club, established in 2022, initially focused on the senior team, which went on to secure victories in the district and state leagues in its debut year. Subsequently, U-19 and U-15 teams were added, and plans are in place to launch a residential academy. The club is also committed to developing quality coaches and has partnered with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) for C and D license programs.
“We will soon start our residential academy as well. So far, the training for kids has been done through the schools. Not just players, we want to produce quality coaches as well and for that, we are partnering with the AIFF for the C and D license programs. We don’t want to leave any stone unturned”, added Aman.
The management team had made good deals by leveraging their network of academic institutions. For example, this fourth division team of Indian football have NIVIA as their kit partners which also makes kits for Mohun Bagan and Jamshedpur FC, thanks to the bulk orders they made with them for their academic institutions.
“A women’s team for Lake City FC will also be a reality soon. At present, the women’s player pool of MP is not good enough. Even the existing players have to go out of the state to play professional games. Bit by bit, we will make a change in that”, said Aman.
Lake City FC have done their on-field part well and they need to do more in the off-field activities like fan engagement as well. Given the experiences of the past clubs from MP, which practically had no home support due to various reasons, the LCFC management have a difficult task in their hands.
“Keep an eye on Hitendra Singh and Atharva Charki; they are our most promising players. They will make it big soon”, Aman concluded.