Like most modern society trends and customs are fast evolving in Gangtok. Sikkim hasn’t produced too many sportsmen but that trend might soon change. I think the state’s new found passion for football owes itself to Bhaichung Bhutia, who was not long ago the captain of Indian Football team. Now retired from national duties he is the founder and proud co-owner of Sikkim United, the second football club from North-East to compete in I-League. Founded in 2008, Sikkim United has taken big strides within three years to join the I-League in 2011. Surprisingly the club is also co-owned by Indian Musician and singer Shankar Mahadevan. The State of Sikkim not only has a team but a club they can cheer about and be proud of.
Sikkim united has made Paljor Stadium in Gangtok their home ground. This 25,000 seater stadium is on a picturesque hill overlooking waves of mountains. It might be one of the best Football stadiums on the hills in India. The Stadium is nicely polished and made colorful with lush carpets. The stadium dates back to 1941 but the renovation of the stadium into its current form was initiated only in 2001 and cost around Rs.30 crores.
On my visit to Gangtok I was lucky enough to witness the electric environment of a fully packed stadium. The other team in the match was East-Bengal, another powerhouse of I-League football. Locals arrived with whistles and small trumpets to cheer their home team. School kids too came in groups like the grown ups and sat on the seat reserved for them. You could see the passion swell up in there eyes. More and more people arrive and the stadium was fully packed some minutes before the kick-off. Imagine 25,000 people coming out of the homes, offices and schools just to cheer a team. North-East Indians are sports loving people but this is a new trend. They’ve never owned a team before. They were glued to TV and rooting for Manchester United or Barcelona. And now, here’s a chance to own and become the big family of rooting for the same team. Sports can unite like no other things!
I interacted with one crazy fan to peek into his world. To him a game is more than a game whenever Sikkim United plays. He would take half day leave without hesitation to watch his young team play. I suspect it wouldn’t be different with anyone who came to watch the match on a busy weekday. But is would be a great boost to the home team.
Throughout the match the fan cheered wildly; blowing whistles and standing up from their seats and drawing out fake red cards for their opponents. The home crowd put up a solid performance led by the homeboy Ashish Chettri and denied East-Bengal the lead until the last few minutes. It was a bit disappointing to see the expression on the fans faces when they lost the match by a goal. But it was heart warming for me to be in the midst of such changing trends and be a witness to the new wave that might soon spread to other North-East States.