Back in 2008, when Gaurang Manjrekar, started a blog about football, little did he know that he’d be at Old Trafford— Manchester United football club’s home—eight years later to receive an award for it. The 26-year-old, who now works as a consultant at an international firm in New York City, started the blog when he was still in school in Mumbai.
Called Football Paradise, it has been selected by a jury of sports journalists from the likes of BBC, ESPN, The Guardian, among others, as well as former footballers as 2016’s best international football blog.
“What you see in football writing these days is mostly all clickbait,” says Manjrekar on a call from Manchester, where the Football Blogging Awards were held on 18 November. With a proliferation of articles like ‘5 things you ought to know about Messi’, Manjrekar committed to learning, writing, and actively inviting people to engage with “the art” of football literature. And so, three years after starting the blog, and just a year shy of going to the US for a management degree, he expanded the blog into a full website, bringing on guest contributors from across the country.
The blog, one of 3,000 nominations from around the world in 11 different categories, has no pretensions. In appearance, it is still an out and out blog, with the posts flowing one after the other. The “mission” statement is crisp and short: “Everyone writes blogs. We cut the clutter, and create football literature. Interested?”
Football Paradise also lists two prominent categories: ‘Kaleidoscope’ and ‘Book Reviews’. The former has essays (sample this: ‘Roy Hodgson and the Three Deadly Sins’ from July this year, dissecting England’s performance in the Euros) and think-pieces (like one on nationalism and “international duties” of football players in ‘Is It Time We Call Out International Football’s Biggest Bluff?’). The latter is focused on reviewing and spotting interesting football books.
The site also tries to spot local football talent, interviews those who are important to football but remain in the background (like physiotherapists), and lastly it also looks at covering Indian women in football.
The team behind the success of the blog is currently “all over the place”. After a full day’s work at EY, New York, where he has been working since graduation in 2014, Manjrekar manages a team of writers and editors based out of Mumbai, Kolkata, and parts of the US. “It’s definitely not easy. Sometimes it means really late nights of talking to writers at the other end of the world,” he says. A WhatsApp group takes the weight of most of their communication.
“But we keep our faith in the art of storytelling. We want to tie together multiple perspectives and facts with the soul of a story. And through the years, despite business sense telling me otherwise, we stuck with it,” Manjrekar says stressing the need for long-form writing and reportage. “There’s a need for such writing to grow again.”
During the call, he realizes that it is 4.30am in Manchester, where he is speaking from. Despite not sleeping a wink, Manjrekar doesn’t sound the least bit tired. “This has definitely got us visibility, so it’s great,” he says, excited. “But if hits were ever on our mind while working on the site, I wouldn’t be as kicked as I am now.”
In the meantime, a publishing house in the UK has gotten in touch with Football Paradise. The news spread on Twitter too, and the team has received congratulations from union sports minister Vijay Goel, inviting them to discuss means to improve and give a better platform for football in India.
“That’s the sort of thing I’m excited about. We’re now also going to focus on ISL (Indian Soccer League) coverage,” says Manjrekar, as the site’s forte has so far been the European football leagues. “It’s not like all this has just happened. I’ve been persistent with this for eight years now, and most importantly the community that I got to nurture through the site grew with it…and with me.”