THE CHARGE OF LAJONG’S BRIGADE
Lajong Football Club from Shillong has entered into the main draw of the I-LEAGUE the professional football league in India. The team from Shillong will be rubbing shoulders with the best clubs of the country like East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Dempo, Mahindra United and Churchill Brothers. The last time such euphoria was seen among the football fraternity was when St. Anthony’s High School was the winner of the Subroto Trophy, the premier tournament for schools in 1978. Now the football lovers of this pine city will get an opportunity to see the famous names of the Indian footballing circuit like Bhaichung Bhutia, Mike Odafe and their ilk playing at their own backyard.
Mr. Prabhat Sawian, Entrepreneur and Chairman of The Shillong Lajong Football Club said that he had never in his wildest dreams imagined that within such a short span of time the club would achieve its goal. According to Prabhat in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a lot of teams from outside the state used to come and participate in the Meghalaya Invitational Cup, where teams from outside the state would take part in the tournament and inevitably teams from Meghalaya would be humbled by huge margins.
It was in the year 1983 that the Lajong Football Club was formed to raise the standard of football in the state and challenge the football powerhouses of that time in the region. The club’s nomenclature was later changed to The Shillong Lajong Football Club, in the words of Mr. Prabhat Sawian, “it was to bring a sense of belonging among the football lovers of the city.” The Shillong Lajong Football Club comprises of a young squad which explains the source of their inspiration. Mr. Prabhat Sawian, says, “It is this capital (the youth) that will open the window of opportunity for the team.” At present the team comprises of players from Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur and three international players from Nigeria and Liberia.
Mr. Paul Meren of the Nagaland Olympic Association laments the fact that the region lacks in international class coaches who would be able to teach the players the finer points of the game. But, The Shillong Lajong Football Club is fortunate to have Mr. Herring Shangpliang as the coach because of his vast experience. He is a well known and respected coach both nationally and internationally. Under him the Club has done well and with his vast knowledge the team is in good hands.
The Captain, Aibor Khongjee has represented East Bengal in the 2007 Season, with his experience of playing in the I-LEAGUE the team will stand in good stead. When asked if there is any difference in the standard of play, Aibor Khongjee said that height is the only disadvantage for players of this region, but the players more than make it up with their skill, hard work, grit and determination.
The 2009-2010 Season of the I-League would start from October, however, time is running out for Shillong Lajong, as the matches will be played on home and away basis. With the availability or unavailability of infrastructure like a stadium, practice grounds proper galleries and floodlights the city might lose out on the opportunity to host the home matches. The regulation of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) stipulates that in order to host I-LEAGUE matches the home team should adhere to minimum requirements like proper ground facilities and also an airport. According to one of the Lajong players, if they lose out on playing at home they will be losing the advantage of playing in front of their own crowds which is very essential in winning and playing top flight football.
Though the North East had always made its presence felt in the national stage with a number of players of the region representing the big clubs in Indian Football, this is the first time that a club that is little known outside the region will be taking on the power houses of Indian Football. Mr. Paul Meren, General Secretary of the Nagaland Olympic Association says that the sportsmen of the North East do not lack in potential if given proper exposure. Larsing Ming, General Secretary of the club echoes the same view, he says that it is not that the footballers of earlier generation lacked in potential, but the present generation now has the opportunity to show case their talents to the outside world.
According to Prabhat Sawian the North East can now walk with pride with the feeling that through hard work anything can be achieved and liabilities can be converted into assets through grit and determination.
Larsing Ming says that their entry into the I-LEAGUE is just the beginning of a larger and monumental challenge ahead and the North East has become the new destination in the I-LEAGUE. Paul Meren stressed that the entry of The Shillong Lajong into the I-LEAGUE should not be one “spur of the moment thing,” but hopes that this will open the flood-gates of opportunity for others.
So come this October onwards all the roads will be leading to Polo Grounds as football lovers flock to watch their local favourites locking horns with the best not just for the season but for seasons to come.