Former Adelaide United and Newcastle Jets midfielder Cameron Watson discusses with the PFA his move to India, why it has changed him on and off the pitch, the imminent AFC Cup Final and what it would mean to win it.

“You walk into the unknown,” Cameron Watson says of the feeling he had when he joined Indian club Bengaluru. “I knew it was going to be a challenge on and off the park, I had spoke to some players who had played in India, but you really have to come and see it for yourself.”

With Watson preparing for a AFC Cup Final clash with Iraqi side Air Force Club, on November 5, where his club is vying to become India’s first club to lift the trophy, it is fair to say the challenges on the pitch have been met and expectations have exceeded.

“Playing in India was never something I had thought about, but the people have been unbelievable and so welcoming from day one. A lot of people have a perception of India as a third world nation with and a lot of poverty, but there is much more to it than that. It has been such an eye opener from the day I arrived.”

On the pitch his eyes have been opened to a nation that is rapidly embracing the sport.

“It is growing so fast and is overtaking cricket as the fastest growing sport here and you can see how big the game can be. Personally I’m learning a lot from the coach. He is Spanish and has coached at Barcelona and Galatasaray and you just keep learning everyday. Some of the players in the team have a lot of quality and they play such a different type of football and a lot of it is so off-the-cuff and they just do some stuff you were never expecting and it is refreshing.”

The quality of the team has seen them charge into uncharted waters. Watson concedes he was unaware of just how significant the achievement of reaching the AFC Cup Final would be prior to the Semi Final.

“You don’t hear much about the AFC Cup in Australia and until we got to the first Semi Final and the hype started to build up I didn’t fully understand,” said Watson. “The first leg of the Semi Final in Johor we got a good result and then for our home match it got crazy. About three days before we realised how big it was for the fans, the club and Indian Football. We were getting support from everyone and you start to see how big this game was. Then we got to the game and we saw there was 20,000 people you knew how much it meant and there was only one way the game was going to go.”

Whilst the Semi Final has proved to be his most memorable moment on the pitch it has been the people of India that have left a lasting impression on the former Adelaide United man. Despite many “having no roof over their heads” they continue to be optimistic.

“You can be anywhere and see people that aren’t as fortunate as you and are living on the street and you see that nothing worries them and despite all that, they have a big smile on their faces, and that hits home the most.  You know how hard they have it and they don’t care. You see these young kids playing football or cricket and they don’t have a care in the world and it makes you appreciate what we have back home.”

It has been this attitude to life that has ensured that Watson’s time in India is not just about his own career – but also about building the game and doing something that makes the club’s fans proud.

“When you are younger and you go to Europe that is the start of your career and it is a big challenge playing there with the best of the best and you are focusing on yourself,” Watson says in comparing his time in Europe to India. “After playing for so many years when you come here you want to help the game to grow to give as much of your experience to help the younger players here who haven’t had the education in football that we have been lucky enough to have and I know how important that is to do.”

On and off the pitch there has been times when he has been reminded “just how far he is from home,” these moments have been relished as part of the experience. “It has been amazing and I will forever be grateful for having the opportunity to come and experience life here.”