Manipur’s Neroca FC revel in 2nd Division League success, aim big for I-League | football | Hindustan Times
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Manipur’s Neroca FC revel in 2nd Division League success, aim big for I-League

Imphal-based Neroca FC clinched the 2nd Division League title on Monday, which ensured their promotion to the next season of the I-League.

football Updated: May 23, 2017 20:41 IST
Bhargab Sarmah
Neroca FC players celebrate after winning the 2nd Division League title.
Neroca FC players celebrate after winning the 2nd Division League title.(Facebook)

On Monday, more than 3,000 km away from Imphal, Srinagar witnessed a historic day for football in Manipur.

Neroca FC, a club from Manipur’s capital city, notched a 4-1 win over Lonestar Kashmir in the 2nd Division League, giving them an unassailable lead at the top of the standings and ensuring their promotion to the I-League.

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Neroca, in the process, became the first club from the northeastern state to qualify for the Indian top-flight, which already has two clubs from the region at present, Shillong Lajong and champions Aizawl FC.

A dream comes true

“It’s a dream come true,” Neroca FC CEO Naoba Thangjam told Hindustan Times.

“It has always been a dream for Manipur to have a club in the top-flight. For an economically-backward state like ours, there were several issues which didn’t help in achieving that dream. But now that we have our own I-League club, players won’t have to go outside to play. It’s a big thing for the footballing society here,” he added.

Head coach Gift Raikhan said the club’s target had been to play in the I-League since making their 2nd division debut last season. “It’s amazing! I took this challenge (to coach Neroca) for the people of Manipur. We had a proper roadmap to be in the I-League. We couldn’t make it last season, but this season has gone smoothly for us,” he said.

A strong fan-base

With a team built on a steady mixture of youth and experience, the Imphal-based club dominated the second-tier league. What, however, was most impressive about the club’s 2nd division campaign, was the unusually high number of fans who came to support the club.

“This craze for football is obviously not a new thing in Manipur. We’ve always had packed stadiums in local tournaments. On top of that, we did a lot of work on the marketing front,” Thangjam explained.

Given the craze for football in the state, the club CEO feels that the current capacity of their home stadium may not be enough to host I-League next season.

“We will be hosting our I-League games at the Khuman Lampak Stadium, which has a capacity of 30,000. I think we will have to suggest the state government to expand the capacity of the stadium because it won’t be enough to cater to our supporters here,” he said.

Aiming high

As far as their next objective is concerned, Thangjam adds that the team will give the top-flight clubs a ‘good fight’ next season. “Even if not for the championship, we hope to fight for a top-three spot,” he said.

With regards to the uncertainty surrounding the future of the I-League, he has a word of caution for the All India Football Federation (AIFF). “Indian football is just rising right now, so they need to be careful with what they plan. Their plans shouldn’t spoil someone else’s dream,” Thangjam concluded.

Coach Raikhan, however, isn’t yet thinking about the next season. He has his eyes fixed on the last remaining game of the ongoing campaign, a home clash against Southern Samity. “My immediate target is to end this phase of the league unbeaten. We haven’t lost a game yet in the final round, and we want to keep it that way,” he said.