Chicken, rice and housie: TRAU’s road to I-League
In a football-mad state, TRAU is one of only two clubs from Manipur to play professional league football. Even before its rise to the I League, TRAU, which was formed in 1954 as a multi-sport club, was an important conduit for budding footballers.Updated: Dec 12, 2019 12:32 IST
Fans chipping in with sacks of rice, or providing cylinders of cooking gas for the club isn’t uncommon at Tiddim Road Athletic Union (TRAU), the 2019-20 I-League debutants.
“And when we win, they will buy chicken and come over. It’s rude to refuse,” says Phulen Meitei, the Manipur club’s CEO, over phone from Imphal. “We get contributions in kind from our members and supporters.”
Tiddim Road is part of India’s national highways grid and from Imphal, it arches towards Tiddim village in Myanmar, 260km away. It was on this road that the British and the Japanese fought between April and July of 1944 in the famous Battle of Imphal.
For locals, it is also the road that leads to the Imphal airport. But for many living between Keishampat and Churachandpur, this road is the link to their football club. A link strong enough to get TRAU to change the colours of its home kit after it was unveiled.
“The team is nicknamed Red Pythons and supporters and officials felt there wasn’t enough red on the shirt,” says an official.
In a football-mad state, TRAU is one of only two clubs from Manipur to play professional league football. Even before its rise to the I League, TRAU, which was formed in 1954 as a multi-sport club, was an important conduit for budding footballers. “My father played for TRAU. In his time, it was a big thing in Manipur,” says former international Renedy Singh.
Metei, who was introduced to TRAU by his father Thambal Singh, says, “TRAU was the springboard for many from these areas to make a life in football.”
Sanaton Singh, Surmani Singh, Dharamjit Singh, Joy Kabui, Reisangmi Vashum are among those who started at TRAU before migrating to clubs in Goa and Kolkata. Odisha FC forward Seiminmang Manchong, 19, is a TRAU product, says Meitei. Among 36 first-team players, five are from the localities around the club, says Meitei. Till they got promoted to the I-League and found a sponsor, the club’s economics too have been staunchly local, and modest.
“One of the most common methods for football clubs in Manipur to raise funds is by organising housie games. Community members supporting their clubs buy tickets for ~3000 or ~3500,” says Singh.
“Gambling’s illegal so we don’t do that anymore,” says Meitei. TRAU, he says, owns a shopping mall and a ground which is let out. “Rents are cheap here so we get approximately ~20 lakh annually from each,” he says. Hardly enough to run a club, so members chip in. “We have 1000 members who pay ~500 per month. Many members are bureaucrats and they sponsor players’ salaries from their salaries. We get donations too because people know what TRAU means to football in Manipur,” says Metei.
When they won the 2018-19 I-League second division, TRAU’s budget was ~1.5 crore, says Metei. It got a ~3 crore hike, he says, after Kolkata-based sports management company Aciesta Sports Alliance Private Limited joined as sponsor.
“An investor from Singapore wanted to be involved in the I-League but with a new team,” says Arijit Mukherjee, managing director, Aciesta.
TRAU began their I-League campaign with a 0-1 away defeat to defending champions Chennai City FC. On Wednesday, Mohun Bagan overwhelmed TRAU 4-0 for first win of the I-League season. “Our first aim is to avoid relegation. I would be happy if we finish fifth or sixth but for that we will need to work,” said Brazilian team official Douglas da Silva who joined three weeks ago.
“The Manipur state league hasn’t started this year and was stopped for 10 months last year,” says Singh. “The presence of two teams from Manipur—TRAU and NEROCA—in the I-League is so important because it’s the best platform for footballers from the state, so many of whom have made a name for themselves.”