A palpable energy flows through Kolkata’s Maidan every March as the Calcutta Parsee Club kicks off its annual football tournament. The Parsee Football Tournament dates back to the spring of 1988 and continues to bring together football enthusiasts, spanning generations, six weeks in a row. My Kolkata looks back at the thrill, the talent, and the tantalising spirit cultivated by this community tournament, year after year.
“We began this tournament 31 years ago as a small five-a-side tournament with participation from 16 corporate teams. We simply wanted to play football and bring everyone together for the love of the sport,” shares Cyrus Confectioner, a member of the organising committee since 1988.
Over the years, the tournament has evolved substantially; what began as a small corporate tournament, now sees 250 games, 80 teams, 3 categories, and 2 plates, spread across six weeks. It now hosts three separate cups — club, corporate, and over-40’s. The over-40’s cup was introduced in 2019, inspired by the many tournament stalwarts. A ladies cup was set for 2020 but was cancelled due to the COVID-induced lockdown.
“We make sure that every single team makes it to the knockout round. We host a Main Plate and a Silver Plate so losing teams compete in the Silver Plate while winning teams move on to the Main Plate,” explains Ratan Postwalla, another committee member. This format is followed for both the club and corporate cups, however, the over-40’s cup is a straight knockout tournament.
The regular participation of renowned athletes like Nirmal Chettri, Renedy Sing, and Alvito D’Cunha helps the teams channel professional competency. "The tournament can get very competitive towards the knock-out stages. Having played it a few times, I can say that it isn't a walk in the park even for the pros. The matches are usually hard-fought and close, and the five-a-side format is full of goals!” remarks Nirmal Chettri who has played as a defender for RG Punjab in the I-League.
Bandos - a team from Bangladesh who has won the tournament five times.
Bandos, a team from Bangladesh, travels every year to Kolkata to compete in the Parsee football tournament. “I love watching father-son duos and generations of players coming together, it’s inspiring,” remarks Imran Rahman, captain and manager of Bandos, that represents Bando Design (Laila Group) in Bangladesh. The Bandos have won more than once, four times for the corporate cup and once for the club cup.
The Parsee Football Tournament is also scaling up its social media engagement with live updates, statistics and scores, footage of goals scored, and an in-house Fantasy Premier League that’s quite the rage. “We record every second of the matches played and as soon as there’s a goal it goes straight on our Instagram story. Everyone loves social media, so it brings us a lot of engagement and helps increase the spirit of the tournament. Our Fantasy Premier League bags close to 100 entries every week,” reveals Yohan Confectioner, a member of the organising committee.
The tournament now has a digital board on the sidelines that features match-saving goals, the occasional tackle along catchy content. “Most people under the age of 30 love seeing themselves on camera, be it on Instagram or on our digital board,” adds Postwalla.
Youngsters make time to volunteer for the tournament, making it a yearly success. “Volunteering at the tournament is a way to de-stress. If we’re not playing or helping out, we’re chilling on the sidelines, snacking. The organisers at the club make us feel at home with their delicious food stalls and refreshing beverages,” says Liam Bain, a young athlete who’s been volunteering and participating for the last seven years.
For many attendees, the authentic Parsee fare is the real attraction. Delicacies like Pora Pao, Pantras, and Chicken Faarcha along with comfort picks like momos, chaats and burgers are readily available at the stalls. On occasion, a special Parsee dinner is whipped up for connoisseurs.
"I look forward to spending as much time as I can at this tournament every year, playing, watching, and talking football,” says Renedy Singh, former Indian team captain and football pundit.
“The Parsee tournament is a carnival! There’s street food right outside and food from the Parsee canteen along with tea, coffee, soft drinks. The football is of course delightful to watch. Sadly, it has come to a standstill during the pandemic. I can’t wait for the next tournament!” exclaims Eric Guest, who participates every year and captains Team Crusaders.
The love and fervour of the members is a testament to the tournament’s influence on the local sporting culture. And while it’s difficult to identify the tournament’s biggest USP, it’s easy to see how community-building has helped the tournament sustain itself over the decades.