Shillong, Jun 9: With less than a week to go before the first highly-anticipated match, the Officer’s Choice Blue Shillong Premier League 2021-22 was officially launched here today, with the trophy and SPL logo unveiled and the captains of the eight participating teams introduced to the media.

The SPL, which was not held in 2020 and 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, will begin on 15 June 2022 with a match between Nangkiew Irat SC and Mawlai SC. Due to upgrades to the JN Stadium and work to lay an artificial pitch at the SSA Stadium at First Ground, all the matches of the first leg will be held at Third Ground, Polo, and kick-off will be at 4PM.

The trophy for the 11th season of the SPL was unveiled today by Lakshya Jit Borah, representative of sponsors Officer’s Choice Blue in the presence of senior Shillong Sports Association officials, the captains, the team coaches, referees, members of the press and others in the conference hall of the SSA Stadium.

Vineet Grover, Sales Director – East, Allied Blenders and Distillers, the makers of OC Blue, said, “We are very happy to return to Meghalaya with the OC Blue Shillong Premier League. Football is a passion and it’s arguably the most brilliant of team sports globally. We look forward to a competitive tournament and commit our support to the game in Meghalaya.”

The new SPL logo was unveiled by the Chairman of the Tournament Committee, Robert Dkhar, while SSA President Eugeneson Lyngdoh launched the promo to the season, which also acted as the launch of the league.

The Shillong Sports Association has taken the big initiative to livestream the games this year via T7, one of the state’s biggest media channels, which will bring all the action from Meghalaya’s favourite and biggest football league straight to the fans wherever they might be. The public can also follow the league’s latest updates through new, dedicated social media pages of the SPL on Facebook and Instagram.

Also joining in the programme were a few young footballers of Meghalaya who have gone on to play in the I-League and Indian Super League, namely Aiban Dohling, Phrangki Buam, Shaiborlang Kharpan, Kynsailang Khongsit, Denzil Kharshandi and Rupert Nongrum, all of whom got their starts in the SPL. Two other youngsters who have gone on to play for the Indian national youth teams, Halen Nongtdu and Ricky John Shabong, were also present on the occasion.

Eugeneson Lyngdoh also played in the SPL as a youth before his football career took him to the heights of the I-League, Indian Super League and Indian national senior team. In his speech he said that live telecast of the games will be “a first of its kind for the SPL. Football has changed and will forever keep changing, so as an association it is important that we too keep progressing.”

As a former player, he thanked the SSA for the work it has done in pushing football forwards in Shillong and farther afield, saying that approximately 2,000 players register with the association every year for its seven different football tournaments.

“When I was 8 years old I came to watch my father play on this ground. At 18 I came to play here myself and now at 35 I am an official in the SSA. It is important for the fans to be engaged with the sport and livestreaming is a step in the right direction. From the livestream, SPL players can get scouted by clubs from outside and even reach the national team level. If we do not keep this ladder alive, then football will die in our state,” he added.

He also welcomed the continued support of Officer’s Choice Blue and felt sure that the league will grow from strength to strength and give expression to the emerging talent in football.

Four-time winners Shillong Lajong FC are the defending champions but the two-year hiatus means that the OC Blue Shillong Premier League 2021-22 season is wide open. 2019 runners-up Rangdajied United FC, two-time winners Langsning FC, Ryntih SC and Nangkiew Irat SC all return from the previous season, while Malki SC are back in the top tier for the first time since the end of the 2018 edition.

Also taking part are Mawkhar SC and Mawlai SC. Mawkhar won the 2019 First Division, with Mawlai the runners-up.

As was introduced in 2019, the SPL will operate on a pure league basis – ie there will be no playoffs or final. After two legs – 14 games per side and 56 overall – the new champions will be crowned.

(Shillong Sports Association photo)

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