ANANYA S GUHA reminisces over soccer-soaked Shillong days
Shillong is synonymous with football or soccer as it is popularly known. The football aficionados that are there must be among the highest in the country. Every child takes a natural predilection to playing this game. My memories of football matches that I watched as a child, gyrate to the field called the Fire Brigade field. It still exists now, but not in that beautiful and pastoral way that I knew it.
Only ‘friendly’ matches would be played there, but be it rain or sunshine we would be present to witness these matches, with crowds being pulled as a social obligation and to cheer the better team. There was no partisanship, only good football was appreciated. Goal keepers were given thunderous plaudits and applause for saving a delectable shot. Centre forwards were given raucous shouts the moment they penetrated the in field. Referees took their work as seriously, as perhaps their profession!
The main league matches, the Shillong League would take place at the Polo Grounds, known for its scenic charm and gurgling streams. There of course the crowd would be more, with everyone cheering their teams till vocal chords grew raucous! But that too was done in the spirit of sportsmanship and no animosity. When the league matches were off or in between them, we veered to Fire Brigade field in Laitumkhrah to watch the ‘ friendly ‘ matches. Nothing would be more pleasurable than to stop by with friends, to watch a match en route to our favourite circuitous walks- both in school and college. I still remember the rainy season as the rains were interspersed with the gallivanting sun! And of course if it was one of those horrendous monsoon days, then there were no football matches, and of course no walks!
In the 1970s, St. Anthony’s school of Shillong won the prestigious Subroto Mukherjee football tournament for schools, bringing laurels to our idyllic town. The school understandably went agog with euphoria, and though some of us were not from that school, we participated with equal gusto in that unforgettable success. A few years later PK. Banerjee the well known footballer and coach was called to St. Anthony’s to coach up and coming footballers. He made the statement that not only were there talented footballers in Shillong, but they could reach the best in the country.
Having been a sports buff in my youth I used to follow football tournaments like the DCM, the IFA etc keenly — and also the Subroto Mukherjee Tournament. One thing struck me in those days was that, at the juniour level, the teams from Meghalaya and Mizoram, even Assam were among the best. But why could they not reach the higher echelons, was what I wondered.
Today, when I see the success of a club like Lajong in Shillong I know the reason. Talent must be given support, talent must be given exposure and the right kind of leadership. P.K.Banerjee was prescient enough to understand this, and the leadership is now provided by men like Larsing Ming Sawian.
Now with the World Cup around the corner, Shillong will be witness to another feast- a feast that the people of Shillong love, the feast of soccer- with their soul and spirit. Roads will be deserted, and everyone will be homeward bound!