Travancore Royals, the first fan-owned football club in India originated from SMRI celebrates its third anniversary

  • The foundation for India’s first fan-owned club was laid in the corridors of SMRI
  • Sijin BT, the founder of SMRI says the idea of Travancore Royals arose from the conviction that fan-owned clubs could save Indian football.
  • Travancore Royals is playing in the Kerala Women’s team and Kerala Premier League.
  • Travancore Royals has many new projects in the pipeline that will be announced soon

Years ago, a man started working untiringly to bring about a sea change in the football scenario of India. Sijin BT, the founder of Sports and Management Research Institute (SMRI) and a die-hard fan of football could see that though people all across the country loved football, the game was dying a slow death. Other than just lamenting the state of things, there wasn’t a single step taken from anywhere to resolve the situation.

As someone who has dedicated his entire life to sports, Sijin flung himself, his institute (SMRI) and its students to find plausible solutions for the aforementioned issue. Day and night, they worked on it and the result corroborated his conviction that fan-owned football clubs could bring about a drastic change in the situation. The result was the formation of India’s first fan-owned football club (not-for-profit model) Travancore Royals Football Club in the capital of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram on Nov 29 in 2018. Now, they are playing in the district level 4th division.

 Today, the club is celebrating its third birthday. Sijin says it was not an easy journey. “It was a bumpy ride, of course. Still, amidst challenges, we could do it. I am proud that the club is going strong and its foundation was laid in the corridors of SMRI.”

He points out that India should learn from the success stories of other clubs. “Most of the world’s valuable clubs such as REAL MADRID (Spain), FC BARCELONA (Spain), BAYERN MUNICH (Germany), ATHLETIC BILBAO (Spain), BORUSSIA DORTMUND (Germany) and BOCA JUNIORS (Argentina) are owned by their fans. Most of the football clubs in Spain and Argentina are owned by the fans. It is mandatory in Germany that a minimum of 51% of the shares of a football club must be with the fans. Their success shows that fan-owned clubs are a better option. The faster we realise this, we can save Indian football.”

For such fan-owned football clubs in India to prosper, democracy should prevail in the clubs and it should run on the principle of ‘one vote per membership,’ Sijin explains.

“In other private limited and public limited clubs, the votes are distributed based on the percentage of shares one member holds. For example, if a member holds a 10% share in the club, he gets 10 votes and the member who has one share gets one vote. That shouldn’t be the case here.”

“Besides, there shouldn’t be any hurdles for anyone to get membership in fan-owned clubs who accept the policies of the club. And instead of contributing the profits gained from the club amongst the members, it should be reinvested in the club. We have to note that the success of such clubs depends upon the fans, their involvement and financial support. I could go on and on,” says an enthusiastic Sijin.

Suvin Samuel, the operations manager of Travancore Royals Football Club was one among the students of SMRI who also took part in the intensive research that was undertaken by the institute in setting up India’s first fan-owned club. He says when he joined SMRI, the idea that fans-owned the club could save Indian football has already been reverberating in the corridors of SMRI.

“The institute had already been into research based on the success of other fan-owned clubs in the world. It was a different experience and gave me a lot of exposure. I was excited to the core. Travancore Royals was an answer to the question on why the football clubs are not sustainable and now I am here today,” Suvin reminisces.

Recollecting those old days, Jibu Gibson, the Secretary of the Travancore Royals Football club says, initially, the club struggled hard. The pace of growth was slow and it was the support of members that helped the club to battle all odds. It slowly started gaining momentum when they started an academy at Pallam, a small village near Pulluvila in Thiruvananthapuram for athletes from the lower rung of society.

“Initially, we had 40 students and now we have more than 180 students out of which 60 to 80 are girls. Everything was fully sponsored and now we are picking up, fast.”

MB Sanil Kumar, the chartered accountant of actors Mammootty and Mohanlal is currently the president and he has driven the club to its next level,” says Jibu. “Vismayasmax Animation owned by actor Mohanlal is our title partner. Our team is playing in the Kerala Women’s League and Kerala Premier League, he says.”

As the club, Travancore Royals has now crossed the threshold of their third anniversary, Jibu says, “there are many new projects in the pipeline which will be announced soon.”

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