The Kingdom of Travancore holds significance in the history of India because of its victory against the Dutch East India Company in the Battle of Colachel which was fought in the year 1741. The Travancore army, under the leadership of King Marthanda Varma defeated the Dutch forces led by Admiral Eustachius De Lannoy and they never recovered from that defeat. Even though these incidents have only a historical significance now, one football club from Travancore is now trying to beat a Portuguese club, even though not in a battle. Travancore Royals, India’s first fan-owned club, is eyeing the Guinness world record held by S.L Benfica (Portugal) for the most widely supported football club in terms of membership. The record was acknowledged in the year 2006 and at that time Benfica had 160,398 paid members.
Till the year 2015, Benfica continued to be the most supported club as per the list made by Movimento por um Futebol Melhor. As per many football websites like Finance Football, FC Bayern Munich holds the first position now with over 300,000 memberships surpassing S.L Benfica even though Guinness World Records never updated this record after 2006. Travancore Royals may not be able to beat these heavyweights of football on the pitch in the foreseeable future, however, they can defeat them in terms of memberships as Kerala and India have a favorable demographic dividend. To put things into perspective, Kerala’s population is around 3.5 crores, and only 1% of that is needed to step up to break this record.
According to Mr. Jibu Gibson, a member of the club, Travancore Royals are taking one stride at a time and are giving equal importance to off-field activities as well. Almost a year back, they got themselves verified on Twitter, even before they started taking part in Kerala Premier League. They later fielded their senior teams for the first time in the Kerala Women’s League and Kerala Premier League (top division of men’s football in Kerala) in the 2021-2022 season. The ladies secured the third position with 6 wins under their belt. The men’s team also performed well and bagged 4 wins in their very first season in KPL. TRFC have the dream of winning the KPL and KWL titles and progressing to the second division of I-League and IWL respectively, but they are not in a hurry and they don’t wish to do it by compromising their financial stability.
“So far, the major chunk of the club expenses has been met by the membership fee and we believe that is the way to move forward. We want to grow with financial stability, even if it takes time. We want more people to join our initiative so that we can take our club to the next level. Clubs like Kerala Blasters have millions of fans and we only need a fraction of that to beat the Guinness World record. The aim is not just to hold a world record but the cash generated from the memberships can be used to drive the club to the top levels of the football pyramid”, said Jibu Gibson.
Trivandrum has a rich legacy for football. At its zenith, Trivandrum used to host a lot of tournaments and Trivandrum super division had the maximum number of teams. Nevertheless, the craze for football slumped after the millennium, and cricket took the driving seat. University Stadium and Chandrasekharan Nair Stadium, which held capacity crowds for tournaments became just monuments of yesteryear’s glory.
“In places like Malappuram, people write and share small articles about talented youngsters in their WhatsApp groups and it helps them to get attention from the clubs. Unfortunately, we don’t have a similar kind of support from the media for football in Thiruvananthapuram. Our online media friends need to step up and share news about budding footballers. There is no purpose of doing repeated interviews of an established player; it is the youngsters who need support and guidance”, Jibu added.
At present, TRFC has only a few hundreds of lifetime members and the target of 300,000 appears to be a difficult one to achieve. Having said that, Kerala football fans can make it happen and the capacity crowds of the recently held Santosh Trophy is a testimonial for the football fan power in God’s own country. The lifetime ownership of TRFC costs 10,000 INR and students can avail annual membership at 999 INR. Interested football fans can apply for membership on the official website of Travancore Royals.
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