Shillong, Mar 3: Meghalaya’s run in the ongoing 76th Men’s National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy has broken new ground.
First it was the semifinal stage – Meghalaya had never before reached this level.
Then they went one better – they beat eight-time champions Punjab to make it to Saturday’s final where they will face Karnataka.
Watching that last game from the dugout was Eugeneson Lyngdoh, who stepped in as manager in place of the unavailable Aiborlang Khongjee. The pair are the two most recent Meghalayans to play for the Indian football team.
A key part of the national side for several years, Eugene was also once the most expensive player in the Indian Super League and, before that, part of the Bengaluru FC unit that was almost unstoppable at its height. Away from the pitch, he had a brief spell in the Meghalaya Assembly (before choosing to step away) as a legislator and is now a member of the All India Football Federation’s technical committee, honorary project head of the U-17 men’s team and Shillong Sports Association President.
He recently spoke to the-aiff.com where he spoke about just how big a deal it is for Meghalaya to have gotten so far into the Santosh Trophy.
“When I was growing up, I idolised players like Rocus Lamare (who preceded him into the Indian team),” Eugene said. “And I tell these guys that they have a chance to become an inspiration themselves.”
While he might talk in the future tense, the truth is that ‘these boys’, the history makers of Meghalaya, are already an inspiration.
“Shillong has had a rich history of football,” Eugene said when asked how this result would impact football at home. “We had the first clubs from the North East in the I-League and even some that gave so many good players from other states a chance to shine.
“Mahesh Naorem is making waves in East Bengal right now but it was at Shillong Lajong that he grew up,” he explained.
Eugene, too, had some of his most formative years at Lajong, which was his first I-League club. He then went onto to represent Rangdajied United FC in I-League 2013-14 before making his highly successful switch to Bengaluru.
He is now keen to highlight the need to talk more about the players, young and old, who have for years plied their trade in the Shillong league.
“A lot of these boys have so much to prove, so much to learn and it is a really proud moment for us, for every young footballer in the state, that this result has come,” he said. “I played under Khlain [Pyrkhat Syiemlieh, the Meghalaya coach] as a player at a time when there were not so many coaches with such knowledge and education as him. It is a great result for him too and I hope people notice this.”
Many from their own state already have taken note. Rajasthan United striker Shaiborlang Kharpan has been keenly following the team’s progress. Kharpan is from a generation that idolised Lyngdoh and Aibor and now sees his own contemporaries in the limelight. “So brave yesterday,” he said of the semifinal. “I was laughing and crying at the same time because of their heart. It is history that will be remembered forever.”
Others have been praising Meghalaya too – from Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma, Meghalaya Football Association President Larsing Ming Sawyan, to celebrated coach Bobby Lyngdoh Nongbet. Even former Lajong coach Stanley Rozario somehow saw the news on the TSR Facebook page and dropped a comment: “Wow, that’s a great result. Congratulations Meghalaya”.
And yet there is the promise of more. “One more step. Then you’ll never forget,” Eugene says.
(All India Football Federation photo)