Churchill Brothers won I-League 6 with a round to spare, their triumph vindicating that money doesn't always buy you trophies. East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and United SC may have had significantly greater budgets this season but it was this 25-year-old club that won India's biggest football tournament, one that spans more than eight months and has 14 teams.With a 1-1 draw against Mohun Bagan at home on Tuesday, the team, India's only wholly family owned club to play at the apex level, reached 52 points after 25 rounds. With one round to go, no one can catch the red shirts now. Well, Pune FC can but Churchill have a better head-to-head record so they were anointed champions on Tuesday.
Churchill Brothers came close to winning India's first National League in 1996-97 but faltered at the last hurdle when JCT pipped them to the title. It took this club based in Salcette, Goa, 12 years to get there again and by then, the National Football League had made way for the I-League.
For large swathes of this game, Churchill Brothers didn't play like champions in waiting. Mohun Bagan were calling the shots and in the 27th minute, CS Sabeeth put the visitors ahead after some smart work inside the six-yard box.
Syed Rahim Nabi could have put the game beyond the leaders and deferred their party till the final round against Air India had he not volleyed wide with Churchill Brothers' goalie Sandip Nandy out of position early in the second half.
And then Sunil Chhetri showed why he is India captain and one of the country's most successful goal-poachers. Chhetri headed home a Bineesh Balan ball. An overwhelming majority of Churchill Brothers' goals have come from imports but the one that mattered most this evening was made in India.
And, of course, at a time when it's fashionable almost to install a foreign coach at clubs, Churchill Brothers had bucked the trend by getting Indians in their coaching staff.
Technical director Subhas Bhowmick showed he's good enough to win another national league a decade after he won his second. And he was assisted Mariano Dias who's as Goan as they get.