It was indeed a remarkable season for the I-League champions Churchill Brothers as the Red Machines impressed Indian football fans with their consistent performances that saw them lift the title. In what can be easily described as a successful season , Churchill Brothers reached the semi-finals of Federation Cup, finished runners-up in the Goa Professional League and participated in AFC Cup in addition to winning the I-League.
Following a patchy 2011-12 season, which saw Churchill Brothers change two coaches, Subhash Bhowmick was roped in as a technical director. A shrewd manager well versed with the game in India, Bhowmick made important yet value for money moves in the transfer season which included signings of Sandip Nandy and Tomba Singh. Several youth players were signed from TFA and Pailan Arrows and these young players were to play a crucial part in Churchill’s campaign. While the clubs across the nation were busy fighting for signatures of Ranti, Chidi & co., Churchill made smart signings of Akram Moghrabi and Bilal Najjarine. They were also the first team to start the pre-season conditioning camp, a move that would eventually prove to be a masterstroke.
Churchill started on a bang reaching the semifinals of the Federation Cup with Moghrabi scoring three goals. I-League campaign began with a loss to Dempo but Churchill Brothers were always in the race for the top spot. As Dempo’s form dropped in the second half of the season, East-Bengal and Churchill Brothers emerged as front-runners for the crown but with East-Bengal failing to score enough goals and hence dropping unlikely points, the Salcette based seized the initiative to clinch their second I-League title.
It was a complete team effort by the Red Machines and a lot of credit for that must go to the team management in the way they managed the team. The team possessed two quality strikers in Akram Moghrabi and Henry Antchouet who were rotated on a per match basis with one starting and the other coming on as a second half substitute. Bineesh Balan played his part as the second striker. In defence it was Bilal Najjarine who led from the front while the midfield was marshalled by the likes of Beto, Lenny Rodrigues, Tomba Singh and Steven Dias, making Churchill Brothers midfield one of the best in the nation. Their team chemistry was easily visible to everyone and played a key role in their truimph.
Churchill Brothers team was a perfect mix of experience and youth, exemplified by their team-spirit. Younger players roped in by Churchill Brothers from the Arrows and TFA at the start of the season payed them rich dividends. Former Pailan Arrows player Bikramjit Singh played a crucial role throughout the season, even scoring two goals in AFC Cup against Semen Padang FC. Saran Singh and Naveen Kumar in the defense, Richard Costa, Israil Gurung and Sanjay Balmuchu in the midfield and Jaison Vales in upfront played their part to perfection whenever they were called upon.
With the Lebanese duo of Akram Moghrabi and Bilal Najjarine departing in the winter window , questions were raised over Churchill’s abilities to survive without them but the team management, led by Subhash Bhormick, made some smart signings again bringing on Balal Arezou, Sunil Chhetri and Lamine Tamba. All three of them played a crucial roles in the I-League truimph which no team deserved more than them.
High Points Of Churchill’s Campaign
Churchill Brothers had the best attacking unit in the I-League with 56 goals in the season and also managed to keep 12 clean sheets
The league was the fifth I-League truimph for Beto and Sandip Nandy and second for Tomba Singh
The I-League title was the first for skipper Sunil Chhetri and foreigners Henry Antchouet and Lamine Tamba
Best Player – Sandip Nandy
The 38 year old veteran goalkeeper rolled back the clock and was the star of Churchill Brothers’ campaign and his heroics under the goal played a vital role in Churchill’s triumph. After being released by East-Bengal under controversial circumstances. Subhash Bhormick’s decision to bring him to Churchill proved to be a masterstroke and his performances forced coach Wim Koevermans to recall him back to the national team. In a season where young goal-keepers were guilty of making school-boy errors, Nandy kept 12 clean sheets and earned Man of the Match on multiple occasions.
Leading from the back Lebanese defender Bilal Najjarine was easily the best center back in the league till he left for UAE midway. The ease with which he marked the likes of Ranti & co. was amazing. Vice-captain and center back Dharmaraj Ravanan had his best season till date and led the defense admirably after Bilal left. Ravanan was deservedly made the captain after Beto was injured. Right-back Denzil Franco‘s overlapping runs were a major source of Churchill Brothers and the Indian International combined well with Steven Dias on the right flank.
Eyebrows were raised when Lenny Rodrigues was picked up for the Nehru Cup squad but the 26 year old silenced all critics with an industrious performance as a defensive midfielder this season. Bineesh Balan was often employed on the left wing besides his primary role of a striker and the Keralite chipped in with six goals in the season including a hat-trick against Sporting Club de Goa. His goal in his team’s last AFC Cup watch was also a treat to watch. Beto needs no introduction to Indian Football fans and the Brazilian capped off another successful season by leading his side to the title. Playing behind the striker Beto scored 13 goals beside notching up several assists.
Gabonese striker Henry Antchouet with 14 goals was the top scorer for Churchill Brothers, including a crucial brace in a vital 2-0 win over Bagan away from home. Antchouet was a constant figure in Churchill attack while his striker partners kept changing. Akram Moghrabi scored 10 goals in just 18 games for Churchill including 1 hat-trick before he was replaced by Balal Arezou in the winter transfers. Sunil Chhetri‘s short yet invaluable contribution also deserves a special mention.
Most Memorable Matches
Churchill’s 3-0 rout of East Bengal at Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata in the round 17 would go down as the most memorable match of their campaign. The win extended Churchill’s lead at the top and also dented East-Bengal’s title chances. Henry Antchouet scored a brace with Steven Dias playing a part in both of the goals while substitute striker Akram Moghrabi added the third late into the second half. Churchill Brothers’s 2-0 win over another Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan at the same venue that almost sealed the title was another memorable win.
Churchill ‘s first and only AFC Cup win of the season – a 3-0 win over Singapore Giants Warriors FC at home was also an important win for the Goans who were playing without many of their first team players. Jaison Vales , Bikramjit singh and Sunil Chhetri were the scorers on the day for Churchill. A 8-4 win in Goan derby against Sporting Club de Goa where
Most Disappointing Match
The 4-0 loss to Kitchee SC in the AFC Cup match despite playing at home will go down as the most disappointing match of the season for the Red Machines. Needing a win to stay alive in the tournament, Churchill Brothers fielded a full strength team but Kitchee went 2-0 ahead inside first 20 minutes thanks to some poor defending by the home side. It was a forgetful night for national team skipper Sunil Chhetri as he failed to get services from midfield and not surprisingly, Churchill lost 4-0 to bow out of the tournament.
Most Memorable Goal
National team skipper Sunil Chhetri proved why he is a cut above other Indian players when he scored two memorable goals both from free-kicks against Dempo to earn a vital point for Churchill Brothers in the crucial Goan derby. Churchill Brothers was playing without Beto and fell behind twice but Chhetri’s free-kicks in the 44th and the 53rd minute gave no chance to Dempo keeper Subhasish Roychowdhury and helped them draw level. Chhetri played a crucial role in the last few matches helping Churchill win the I-League which incidentally, was his first as well.