In the 1960s, Punjab was the hub of Indian football and stayed so till the 80s as many players from the state made it big.
The Jalandhar-based Leaders Club played a key role in placing the state prominently on the country’s football map and popularising the state’s local league.
When Leaders Club was disbanded in 1977-78, the baton passed to the Phagwara-based JCT Football Club. The club got prominence when India stars Inder Singh and Sukhwinder joined JCT in 1974-75. The club became one of the country’s major clubs before being disbanded in 2011.
After a gap of five years, a team from the state, Minerva Punjab Football Club, will be competing in the I-League.
“JCT won the inaugural edition of the National Football League, but post-2000 there was a dip with the disbanding of the club. With Minerva qualifying for the I-League there is hope of revival,” said former India star Harjinder Singh, who looks after the Chandigarh Football Academy.
Minerva finished runners-up in the I-League second division, but after champions Dempo Sports Club pulled out of the top tier, the Punjab outfit got a chance to compete in the top division.
“As it is their debut, there are no expectations. The team has nothing to lose so I hope the boys will give their best. Moreover, it is an opportunity for those who couldn’t get a chance to prove themselves,” said India skipper Gurpreet Singh, who hails from Chandigarh.
Banking on youth
A young side, Minerva are banking on players who warmed the bench in the last edition of the I-League and Indian Super League.
“The average age of our side is 21-22 years. This is a big opportunity for our players and hopefully they will avail of it,” said club owner and executive director Ranjit Bajaj.
“As we are a new club, the budget is limited. Instead of going after big names and spending hefty sums signing them, we have preferred those who got few chances in the last one or two years and are hungry to prove their worth,” he added.
The club has some foreign players though. Jole Sunday and Love Day of Nigeria played in the last edition of the I-League and Victor turned out for a top club in Nepal.
“In the second division of I-League we were the only outfit to defeat the other teams in the fray. The team might be new in I-League, but nobody can take us lightly. Hopefully, we will start with a win against Chennai City FC on January 8,” said Bajaj.