Matches in Group B were supposed to take place in Ranchi, Jharkhand, but they might be shifted to Cuttack. Group B is an interesting mix of the old guard of Indian football and newer clubs.
Venue: Cuttack, Orissa
Teams: Mohammedan Sporting (West Bengal), Denzong Boys (Sikkim), Josco FC (Kerala), Kenkre FC (Maharashtra), SESA FC (Goa), Malabar United (Kerala), and Ar-Hima (Meghalaya).
Mohammedan Sporting is one of the illustrious names in Indian football. Arguably the best supported team in the country, Sporting once had the ability to sell out stadia in any city. They still have a good fan following but decades of mismanagement have reduced Mohammedan to a non-entity in football. Now no one expects them to challenge for a title, not even their fans. The white and blacks have also been a yo-yo club in I-League, getting promoted and relegated with comparable frequency. Mohammedan has a decent squad this season – foreign imports Christopher and Han Wook looked good in IFA Shield, while Dipendu Biswas, with over 200 goals in Indian football, scored a bagful of goals in Kolkata League. Recently Mohammedan got their hands on some much needed silverware by winning the Airlines Gold Cup – a result which will boost the players.
Christopher – main goal scoring threat for Mohammedan
Last year Kenkre FC celebrated ten years of its existence. Founded in 2000, the club took its name from Adib Kenkre, an accomplished and popular football coach. Over the last ten years, Kenkre FC has done some wonderful work in youth level football and they have always emphasized proper training for both players and coaches. This season’s I-League had four clubs from Maharashtra – Kenkre FC will be looking to live up to this trend.
In late 1990s, Cochin FC became the first professional football in Indian football. Over next few seasons numerous clubs from Kerala tried to follow their approach, and Josco FC was one of the leaders amongst such clubs. Set-up by local jewellery giants Josco Group, the club is aiming to become the first club in India to own a football stadium. Josco FC has been getting impressive results in last few months, winning the Dronacharya Cup and also back to back Kerala State Club Championships. They are coached by former NFL winner and veteran coach TK Chatunni, while legendary player Pappachan is also part of the staff.
Malabar United SC was launched by Malabar Football Academy in 2007/08 season. The club has won numerous local titles in last few seasons like the Dronacharya Cup and Udaya Cup. In order to attain I-League qualification, Malabar FC has signed three Nigerian players – Egware, Aja and Okwudili. Along with Josco SC, Malabar United will be the other club from Kerala fighting for promotion in Group B.
Denzong Boyz Club is one of the three clubs from Sikkim that are vying for I-League qualification this season. Started in 2008, Denzong has quickly built up a loyal fan base in Sikkim. The club captured back to back Independence Cups in 2008 and 2009. Last season they made their debut in second division I-League but failed to make a mark. This season they have built up a reasonably strong squad with a mixture of foreign players and local talent. Cameroon U-20 national team player Enondji Arol has been roped in to provide attacking strength. Veteran coach Thupden Rapgyal has been entrusted with the reigns of Denzong Boyz.
Ar-Hima club from Meghalaya is comparatively older than some of the other clubs from North East – having been established in 1987. They have performed well in local tournaments over the decades. Two seasons back, they won the Meghalaya Invitational Football tournament. It will be pretty difficult for them to challenge some of the bigger names in their group, but nonetheless they will gain valuable experience.
SESA Complex in Goa
Owned by iron ore mining firm SESA, SESA FC was one of the premier names of Goan football in the 70s and 80s. The management dissolved the senior team after the club failed to gain entry into the inaugural National Football League. In 1999, the club was revived to form an Academy for younger players. In last few years, SESA has turned itself into one of the finest youth academies in India. Footballers in the age group of U-16 and U-18 are provided accommodation and training in SESA FC’s complex in Sanquelim. Players like Micky Fernandez, Godwin Franco, Denzil Franco have graduated from SESA’s academy in recent seasons. In last season’s Second Division, SESA was unstoppable in preliminary round – topping the group containing eventual winners ONGC. Sadly, they failed to replicate that form in the final round, finishing a disappointing sixth. Under the tutelage of Clifford Chukuwama and former Man City defender Terry Phelan, SESA FC is one of the heavy weights in this group.