A glimpse of the football scene in Assam and Meghalaya!
When we planned a trip to the North East this December, I was all excited. Football, that was in my mind. When we had to replan our initial itinerary to avoid Tawang from the list and settle for Meghalaya and Assam, I was, even more, happy. Guwahati FC, Guwahati Town Club and the Shillong football scene was in my mind. It’s a year-end trip, my wife has yearned for a long trip for a long long time, all this meant I couldn’t outrightly tell her that I was looking forward only for football. I did not do that mistake! Will never do that!
However, I did send a message to Riewdondor Khongwir ( A good friend from Indian football Live FB Group) alerting him that I will be landing in Shillong and would love to meet up with him! We landed in Kolkata and took a train to Guwahati. While on the train we spotted a few football grounds in Bengal, however, I was terribly sad that I could not go to Salt Lake or feel that football frenzy in Kolkata. We did, however, see some hoardings of Atletico De Kolkata though.
Landed in Guwahati, took a cab all the way to Kaziranga and the whole place is littered, yes, littered with scenic football grounds. I hate tight schedules. For a laid back man like me, its a downer. In Assam too, I missed out seeing a stadium or a football match!
But that was not the case in Meghalaya. I met Riewdondor on the very first day I landed there. He assured me that he will take me to the JN stadium in Shillong. Again, we had so many places to visit and I was afraid if we could make it to the stadium. On our second day in Shillong, we took a trip to Cherrapunji. The wettest place on earth!
But the real surprise was a banner that welcomed us in Cherrapunji. An exhibition match between Shillong Lajong FC and Royal Wahindoh being played in a local ground. I had read about an exhibition match between the two sides some time ago. I thought the banner would be an old one.
We went around Cherrapunji and while we were on our way back, I could see crowd trickling to the ground and immediately told my cab driver to stop. We got down, walked up to the ground. What we saw afterwards is inexplicable. Junior teams from Lajong and Wahindoh was fighting it out on the field, and the stands were brimming with the crowd!
The best part was that the crowd had youngsters and elderly people, men and women, and even children holding hands and walking on the sides. Everyone cheering every single move! Unbelievable! Football in Meghalaya is a community festival. There were vendors selling all kinds of stuff around the ground, there were people perched on all possible parts of the field wanting to watch the match! It was an incredible experience! Sheer love for the game! I said to myself, this is the best part of my trip so far!
Next morning, Riewdondor came down to the hotel and we took a long walk to the Shillong JN stadium. All the way, we spoke about football, the huge role it plays in North East and, of course, the dismal affairs of Indian football. But a morning spent discussing football is definitely not any ordinary morning. We walked all the way to the stadium, saw the Polo grounds, newly laid artificial turf where Royal Wahindoh juniors were prepping for an upcoming match and then the stadium itself. JN stadium, which attracts huge crowds for the Lajong and Wahindoh matches, was in full glory under the morning sun. Riewdondor noticed that bucket seats were installed in the stadium. We stood there for a while chatting and he accompanied me back to the hotel. Thank you Riewdondor for taking me there!
The day before, I had managed to sneak into the Lajong office as well. I was bit late, though. Folks over there seemed pleasantly surprised seeing a football fan from down south barging into their office. However, they were kind enough to tell that if I could make it early in the morning the next day, I could meet the coach!
There is no North East without football. For people there, the game is in their blood, to be nurtured as a community festival than a game, that bring people together, and keep their bonding with each other strong. If you are a football fan, and if you ever visit the North East of India, do watch a match there – your love for the game would just double!
Credits to wifey for the pics and editorial support!