By noon, traffic started building on St Paul’s Road, a thoroughfare that merges into the road leading to the Jawaharlal Nehru Sports Complex in Shillong. By 1.30 pm, one hour before kickoff, the stadium was full and the rumour that a political programme had to be cancelled because there was no audience doing the rounds.
Everything they said about the crowd here was true. “Ladies and gentlemen, the whole of India is watching (the match was live on TV). Show them that we are sports-loving people,” the emcee said.
Shillong obliged, with drums, cymbals and waving flags of their favourite club who had their full-throated support. In red shirts, a corner of the stadium stayed on its feet throughout the match egging on the I-League’s only club from the Northeast. It was reminiscent of how South Koreans backed their team against France in Leipzig in the 2006 World Cup finals, the only difference being that instead of the ‘dae-han-min-guk’ (meaning: Korea) chant, it was “Lajong, Lajong” all the way.
“It was amazing how they pushed their team. I hope they keep doing that. This is a great place to promote football,” Mohun Bagan coach Karim Bencherifa said, after Thursday’s 2-1 win. Match commissioner Hardev Jadeja said he hoped more of Lajong FC’s home matches would be televised.
Even the booing Mohun Bagan faced when they came out to warm-up or whenever they had the ball was good-natured. Much as they wanted Lajong FC to win, it seemed the most important reason why the men, women and children were here was to enjoy football.