Group C contains two clubs which have seen better days in their history. One of these clubs used to compete for the National Football League title in early 2000s while the other one was one of the pioneers of Indian football. Group C also contains the only institutional team in this year’s second division.
Group – C
Venue – Madurai, Tamil Nadu
Teams – Royal Wahingdoh (Meghalaya), PIFA (Maharashtra), Techno Aryan (West Bengal), Vasco Sports Club (Goa), Chandni FC (Kerala), Eagles FC, Cochin (Kerala), BEML (Karnataka)
Established in 1951 Vasco Sports Club was named after its illustrious Brazilian counterpart. One of the oldest football clubs in Goa, Vasco is also one of the best supported clubs in the region. In first half of the 2000s Vasco emerged as one of the strongest teams in Indian football. They will always be remembered for pioneering the use of more than two foreigners in starting line-up. In 2001, they fielded three foreigners – Rui Wanderley, Marcos Perriera and Rogerio Ramos in a NFL match. Bolstered by Rui Wanderley’s goal scoring ability and Marcos’ flair Vasco finished 3rd in 2001/02 and 2002/03 seasons. In mid-2000s the club began to feel the strain of financial overspending of previous seasons. Eventually quality of Vasco teams began to deteriorate as they got relegated. They are the only club in Group C which has previous experience of playing top division football which will help their cause.
Managed by the legendary Carlton Chapman, Royal Wahingdoh is one of the oldest clubs in Meghalaya, being operational from 1946. Chapman took his players to Goa to get them acclimatized with hot and humid conditions. They also reached the final of Tata Steel Tournament some months back – finishing runner up behind Mohammedan. They also captured the Shillong League title piping Lajong FC. Chapman has indentified right-back Bowari Khongstia, midfielders Kima and Mala and striker Seitya as possible stars for the future.
Premier India Football Academy (PIFA) began its journey in 2006 with the clear target of eventually playing in I-League. Their main focus has been on developing young talent and PIFA has curved out a niche in Maharashtra football in this aspect. Their senior team qualified for second division I-League after finishing in top-3 of Maharashtra League. PIFA is an extremely modest club without any sponsors. Their financial constraints make it difficult for them to obtain quality foreign players and they are depending on local boys to step up to the occassion. It will be an invaluable experience for PIFA to compete in second division but they are unlikely to mount a serious challenge.
Ernakulam Eagles was set up in 1955 by a group of football loving students. The club goes by the moniker of Eagles FC now. One of the five clubs from Kerala in this year’s I-League, Eagles have high hopes of following the footsteps of Viva Kerala. Veteran goalkeeper Ali Abubakr has experience of playing in National Football League before which can prove to be crucial. Surabuddin Mullik played a handful of matches for Mohun Bagan in Kolkata League and showed signs of developing into a decent player. The club is also coached by former India international and NFL winner Jo Paul Ancheri.
Aryan Club is one of the oldest football clubs in Asia, having been started in late 19th century. In the early years of Calcutta Football League, they were one of the strongest teams along with Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan. Aryan made a name for them as the “giant killers” of Kolkata football. The club fell into bad times in last two decades – getting relegated to lower divisions. Few seasons back, the club got a new sponsor – Techno Group, who pumped in much needed financial support. Under the tutelage of experienced coach Raghu Nandi, Arya created history in KFL 2010 – defeating each of the three Kolkata giants in same season. They finished third and eventually qualified for second division I-League. After KFL Aryan also reached the final of Airlines Gold Cup before losing to Mohammedan. Their showing in IFA Shield was not encouraging as Raghu Nandi chose to rest many first team players. If Aryan is able to replicate their form of KFL 2010 then they will easily breeze into the final qualification round.
Bharat Earth Movers Limited’s (BEML) football team was late entrant in I-League Division-II. BEML, only institutional side in this year’s league didnt register their team by 31st December. AIFF initially blocked their entry only to relent later. BEML narrowly misseed out on qualifying for final round in 2009/10 season. They finished level on points with HAL (who earned promotion eventually) but were knocked out by goal difference. BEML was the most prolific side in preliminary qualifying round having notched up fourteen goals in seven matches.
Chandni FC was formed in 2000/01 season and followed FC Kochin’s professional approach from its inception. Initially they struggled to find a sponsor but were later helped by some Calicut based businessmen. Chandni FC has been running a youth academy from 2001 with U12 and U17 teams – a very impressive feat. Their previous flirtation with I-League ended in disaster last season. Chandni finished rock bottom in regional qualifiers – conceding twelve goals in six matches. They will certainly look to avoid a similar drubbing this season.