Over past few years, the city of Shillong has been the hub of the football revolution in North East India, leading the region with a very high level of professionalism in the game. It is no secret that football has always enjoyed fanatical following in this city. In recent times though, the advent of the Shillong Premier League and the subsequent promotion of Shillong Lajong, and even more recently, Rangdajied United, into the country’s top flight, has uplifted the city’s status from ‘just another football-loving city’ to one of the country’s major footballing hubs.
The local clubs too have had a major role to play in this revolution, with all the teams competing in the local league with utmost seriousness. With fantastic attendances at the games, and tremendous competition among the participating clubs, the Shillong Premier League has been a big success during these past few years. Because of the popularity of the Shillong Premier League and the need to bring in more professionalism among the clubs, it became necessary for the local clubs to develop young talent. So, in 2010, the Shillong Sports Association (SSA) made it compulsory for all the Shillong Premier League clubs to have an U-19 side registered with the association. In 2011, in order to provide a platform to these youngsters to showcase their talent, the U-19 Shillong Premier League was initiated. With a view to develop local footballers, the SSA allows only footballers from within the state to participate in this league.
It was Shillong Lajong who lifted the first edition of the U-19 Shillong Premier League in 2011. Nangkiew Irat, who have been one of the most consistent sides in the Shillong Premier League, won the U-19 title in 2012. With seven sides fighting it out for the trophy this year, it was the Nangkiew Irat side, which defended its league eventually, narrowly beating Rangdajied United and Royal Wahingdoh to the title in an extremely close affair.
One of the most popular clubs in Shillong, Royal Wahingdoh, started off its campaign against Langsning FC. The former demolished Langsning 5-2 in the opening game of the tournament, thus establishing its credentials as the red hot favorites to lift the title. Two other strong sides in the league, Rangdajied United and Nangkiew Irat, began their campaigns with draws, with Rangdajied holding Royal Wahingdoh to a goalless draw, and Nangkiew Irat drawing 1-1 with Pohkseh. As the days passed, it became quite clear that the league would be a three-horse race between Royal Wahingdoh, Rangdajied United and Nangkiew Irat.
Royal Wahingdoh, after their goalless draw with Rangdajied, put up a stupendous show against hapless Mawlai SC, humiliating the latter by 21 goals to nil. While Maithsaphrang, one of the brightest talents in the Wahingdoh side, scored six goals in the game, the 21-0 thrashing of Mawlai also highlighted the inability of the latter to compete at this level. The reds followed it up with a 5-0 win over Malki SC. In the meantime, Rangdajied United went on to collect all six points from their next two games, beating Pohkseh 6-0 and getting past Mawlai in a walkover. On the other hand, Nangkriew followed up their opening draw with three hard fought wins, starting with an entertaining 7-4 victory Malki SC, followed by narrow 2-1 victories over Langsning and Rangdajied. It was Chesterpaul Lyngdoh of Nangkriew who starred in both the narrow wins over Langsning and Rangdajied. While Langsning were beaten by a late goal from the youngster, Rangdajied bowed down to Nangkriew after two quickfire goals from the latter in the second half, with Chesterpaul scoring the winner yet again. Rangdajied’s loss all but ended its hopes of lifting the title, whereas Nangkriew followed up with an 11-0 win over Mawlai in their next game.
Royal Wahingdoh were dealt a crucial blow in their game against Pohkseh, after the latter equalized in the 87th minute via Kobar to steal a couple of important points from Wahingdoh. Despite dropping these points, there was still everything to play for on the final matchday of the league, with Royal Wahingdoh needing a win over Nangkriew to lift the title. However, as things panned out, Wahingdoh were left to rue their two dropped points against Pohkseh, as Nangkriew put up a griity performance to shut out Wahingdoh for 90 minutes, which ensured them the U-19 Shillong Premier League title for the second consecutive season. Rangdajied United, meanwhile, finished second with 13 points from their six games. The league also provided many other entertaining games, including a 3-3 draw between Pohkseh and Malki.
With the third edition of the U-19 Shillong Premier League coming to an end, the tournament illustrated the tremendous potential of the local youngsters of Meghalaya in the beautiful game. The league brought forward some talented names like Maithsaphrang, Chesterpaul, Superfine Suting, Gamelial, to name only a very few. The professionalism displayed by the clubs in developing youth sides is indeed quite laudable. Moreover, the U-19 league also showed the gulf between Nangkriew, Wahingdoh, Rangdajied and the other four sides. There’s no hiding the fact that the youngsters of these three sides were head and shoulders above the rest. Much more was expected from the Langsning side, which eventually flattered to deceive. Pohkseh and Malki played well in patches, whereas the depleted Mawlai team was clearly unprepared to play against the technically superior teams in the tournament. At this level though, it wouldn’t do justice to go too hard on these youngsters; there is still a long way to go for all these kids, and hopefully, the hard work of the clubs, the state association and the boys, will pay off in the future.