Friday, May 08, 2009

Of Sunil Chhetri, Bhaichung Bhutia and Kalimpong!

(This article sans the photographs was originally published at Now that the article has been archived on the website, I am republishing the same through BeaconOnline on my blog!)


Image Courtesy:MorgueFile

Kalimpong is a hill station nestled in the Lower Himalayas in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is located at 27.06° N 88.47° E at an average altitude of 1,247 m (4,100 feet). The town is the headquarters of the Kalimpong subdivision, a part of the district of Darjeeling. In this article, the author shares his experiences about the passion called football that rules this part of the world.

Cradled in the hills of Darjeeling-India, the small town of Kalimpong is but a place overwhelmed by ardent football enthusiasts. The passion for the game runs back to decades and the zeal has been carried down through the generation. Arguably, the pinnacle of this begins early July and ends in the usually rainy evening of the Indian Independence day.

Apart from the fanfare of school activities, football and only football, dominates every 15th August. It usually begins with a mini-football championship staged officially between schools for boys under 14. Although staged for this age-group, the number is just a suggestion. Much older looking guys usually don the colourful jerseys and sometimes are the reason for many a thrashing.

The competition is staged in the town’s most popular and famous football field-the Mela Ground (pictured below).


The final to the tournament literally has people from all walks of life thronging to view the extravaganza. Shortly after the end of the mini division, the stage is set for the B and A division football finals. The B- division football clash is between teams comprising of senior school students vying for the coveted crown.
The stadium is filled with two opposing sets of fans who, like their football -mad counterparts in Europe or Latin America are colourful and noisy. They chant slogans and boo every aspect of their opponents’ move. It is not uncommon to have the die-hard supporters invade the pitch during the finals, causing more excitement and hundreds of heartbeats to race.

For a nation that is cricket savvy and for a town of Kalimpong’s stature, an observer will have no qualms about the passion the sport has to offer. Cricket is a religion followed by many but Football is the oeuvre of mass hysteria. The senior division championship has teams from Nepal, Bhutan and adjoining states locking horns.

After some rounds of gruelling matches, the finalists fight it out in the rain, fog, muddy conditions and their opponents to be crowned the Independence Shield champions.

Kalimpong, historically, has a great track record of being rainy on August 15 but this is not enough to deter the spectators from enjoying the game. The processions that follow have everything that a football fan would expect. You could compare it to Manchester United’s celebration in 1999 after its treble and it might not be mere exaggeration.

Unlike Calcutta or for that matter, Sikkim, Kalimpong has not been able to produce players for the Indian national team.

The reasons are many but in recent times, the local football academy has invested in some foreign coaches and selected and trained promising players in week long camps. A lot of work is still to be done and hopefully like all good endeavors, this small town will produce players in the class of Bhutia and Chhetri.


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