From left: Francis Da Cunha, Orlando Coutinho, Agostino Ferrao, Maxwell Coutinho, Jerry De Ribandar, Joe Ferandes, and Ramnath Mavlingcar, who were members of Wasco Football team in 1980s. The team representing Goan expatriates in Abu Dhabi used to play many tournaments in Dubai with teams of other Goan clubs. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Football and leisure fishing helped them make Abu Dhabi their home when they landed in the city in late 1970s and 80s, according to a group of expatriates from the western Indian state of Goa.

“Football is almost like our national game. Grown up beside Arabian Sea and rivers in the village, fishing was part of our life,” they told Gulf News in an interview.

“Thanks to football and [leisure] fishing, we did not feel homesick in Abu Dhabi,” said Maxwell Coutinho, 60, who reached the capital in 1982 and just retired as an aviation fuel superintendent.

Abu Dhabi then in its early stages of development gave residents enough space and opportunity for both leisure fishing and football.

Maxwell Cutinho (sitting extreme left), Joe Fernandez (second from left) and others during a football match in the 1980s.

Joe Fernandez, 69, who reached in 1980, still cherishes fishing on the vast open beaches.

“We used to fish [using rod and hook] most of the evenings and all weekends. Gradually buildings came up everywhere and no open beach was left,” said Fernandez, who works as a senior technician with a private firm.

The UAE had a quite large Goan community since 1970s and several football clubs representing various Goan villages were active in Dubai, said Ramnath Maulingker, 60, a professional- turned businessman who came in 1979.

“In Abu Dhabi, we formed Vasco football team in 1981 and we used to play tournaments in Dubai and we won many trophies,” he said.

The place where Abu Dhabi Cooperative Society building is located now in Al Zahiya (Tourist Club Area) in the city was an open space and it was their football practice ground. “We enjoyed playing on the sandy ground,” Maulingker said.

Francis Da Cunha, 60, who reached in 1979, said football earned him a job with a government company that had a football team. He still works with the same company as a production technician.

Coutinho said football helped develop a brotherhood among them. “We all were in our 20s [in 1980s]. Being bachelors, we had enough time to play football [and enjoy life]!”

However, the same football reminded them about their age and its limitations after sometime.

“After 35, it is difficult to continue playing football!” Coutinho said.

Fernandez, who was a goalkeeper at that time, said problems with his eyesight prompted him to stop playing. “You cannot be a goalkeeper without proper eyesight.”

They all left the playground by late 1990s but continued to support the youngsters who carried on their legacy.

However, Da Cunha said, by that time football was too much commercialised. “Teams representing small villages started getting big sponsorships etc.”

He said the game lost its simplicity. Back in 1970s and 80s, it was a simple affair and more enjoyable, Da Cunha said.

They were founders of Vasco team and continued to be in touch with each other.

However, other commitments kept them busy and their wish to get together with all old footballers did not happen for many years. They do not exactly remember when was their last meeting.

“It might be around 15 years ago…sometime in early 2000s,” said Coutinho.

Finally, they gathered on April 6 (Friday) as most of them would be retiring from jobs soon. “Some of them would be leaving Abu Dhabi and there may not be a further chance to catch up here,” Coutinho said.

Around 50 people, including the founders and supporters of Vasco team , spent a day together and shared their fond memories of the good old days.

“We felt we are still young!” Coutinho said.