The Himalayan foothills host a passionate group of people, lively and on the move at all times. One thing that an amazing number of North-Eastern people hold dear is the game of football, spending most of their evenings either playing or watching a game. The magnificence of Gangtok’s footballing arena cannot escape one’s eyes. Palzor Stadium has been called the “Home of Football” in Sikkim by many and has been stomped upon by some exceptional native players. The North-easterners’ love for football seems like a fire which could keep burning across generations.
A pedestrian gazing towards the huge green field from above relishes the beautiful landscape and within it dozens of red, yellow, black jerseys, moving with fervor and flair. The ground has been uniting local people for years, has developed jaw-breaking talents and has hosted big tournaments. One of the most popular competitions is the Governor’s Gold Cup, where some big names set foot on the field. One can also get lost in the astounding view of the shimmering skyline behind the stadium.
Recently, in the U-17 FIFA World Cup, the Indian team of youngsters managed to catch the eye of a big audience. One of these players was Komal Thatal from Soreng, West Sikkim, who put on a tremendous display against the American team. Rumours hold that scouts from Manchester United had been sent to India to watch over the young boy.
Football is said to be the most popular sport in the world and has been successful in giving birth to dreamers and aspirers. Pele, of whom almost everyone has heard of described football as O Jogo bonito which translated into English gives us “The Beautiful Game”. He was one of the fighters who took a long, hard way towards success, driven by passion and conviction. People can even make a fortune by manufacturing and selling the cheapest of football merchandise. In this regard, the wave has not left North-Easterners behind. Ever walked in an Alto 800 taxi and caught sight of the Manchester United banner over the top of your head which probably looks like it’s bigger than your future?
Of all the national top-flight football competitions, the Premier League appears to be the most widespread in Sikkim and around, with a fair majority of people claiming to be supporters of English Clubs. Some great players have graced the league with their skills in the game, and have left the average viewer awestruck time and again.
This generation’s fan battle of “Cristiano VS. Messi” seems unending. These are two prodigious players, with immense love for the game and with probably the highest number of fans in the world. Famous rivals and the highest paid in the football world, the past 9 FIFA Ballon d’Ors have gone to no others but these players. The last Ballon d’Or winner except the two was Kaka, the 2008 winner. Other than the Premier League matches, the “El Clasico” makes the locals go rabid and the following day never seems complete without hateful comments, frequent arguments and one or two fistlandings. You can be pretty sure that twice a year, you’ll participate in a conversation where someone will eventually blurt out the words: aju ta el clasico po ho ta.
Let’s not forget about the craze among the locals in the seasons of the FIFA World Cup, that is one time when Palzor Stadium is lit against the dark, with fans waiting for the game to begin, staring impatiently at the big screen.
If you’re a football enthusiast, you should be sure to visit some incredible places which are themed and embroidered all over with representations and legendary photographs. Want a beer to accompany you this game week? Visit “Homeground”, Namnang Road. Hungry? Get in the “Food Bowl Restaurant”, 5th Mile. Enjoy Futsal? Study the fixtures and sit through action-packed futsal matches in the “Infinity Futsal Arena”, Krishi Bhawan, Gangtok.
2011 marked the start of a new age, as Sikkim had its first football club, one for the people of the state. United Sikkim Football Club was founded in 2011 and was co-owned by a Dubai Company and Bhaichung Bhutia. The club qualified for 2nd division I-League and played two seasons. It is the first Sikkimese club and the second North-eastern club to compete in the I-League.
We cannot deny that football has dominated North-East India sports culture for decades, producing exquisite players here and again. The locals’ love for the game seems undying. As we know that the future of our small state is in the hands of our youth, we can see young people with fire and courage in their hearts, prepared to beat every opponent matched against them. These young people are the ones who ought to keep doing what they do best and keep fanning their inner flame so they can stand out to the world like proud, bold lions after attaining mastery and success in the sport.