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Mohan Bagan Club in Darjeeling to tap 40 youngsters talents aged between 13 and 19

DARJEELING : The hills of Darjeeling have no dearth of talent when it comes to games, especially football, but what is lagging is managing and nurturing youngsters. Now, with the objective to tap underexposed potential, 40 youngsters aged between 13 and 19 were shortlisted in a scouting camp conducted by Mohun Bagan football club of Kolkata. The bigger goal of the Kolkata club, one of India's football giants, is to provide the right training and develop the inherent skills of these youngsters by enrolling them in the Sambalpur-based Ekalavya Sports and Skill Development Foundation, Odisha.

Speaking to reporters at the training camp in the North Point school ground in Darjeeling, Shyamal Ghosh, deputed as coordinator for the North Bengal region by Mohun Bagan, said, “Football is only recently developing in our country. We have many miles to go before we are able to achieve the highest levels of success. The issue basically is of nurturing hidden talents and managing them properly. This is where we (Mohun Bagan and Ekalavya Sports) will come in to give the right exposure and platform."

The catch, however, is that only the cream of the talents will be selected by Mohun Bagan for training in Sambalpur. Hopefully, they will make their career in some of the major clubs of Kolkata and play in events like the lucrative ISL and other leagues. The final selection will take place in February in Siliguri where aspirants from other regions of North Bengal will also join the camp to be shortlisted. Football is followed like a religion in the hills and many locals have made it to the Kolkata fields and represented clubs there. However, over the past two decades or so, there has been a dip in players making it to the cities, which has become a worrying factor.

Of late, to name a few, Jiten Rai and Nilandra Dewan, both in East Bengal, Dhinkar Chhetri, representing Peerless and Krishpen Chhetri of Parag United, are visible faces from the hills in the big leagues of Kolkata. “I clearly recall players from the hills being taken on loan to play for big clubs in Kolkata and Nepal and Bhutan. But all that has changed over two decades,” recollected Lakpa Sherpa, who donned the Mohammaden Sporting Club and Peerless jerseys between 1995 and 1999.

The hills have produced players such as Chandan Singh Rawat, who represented the country in the Olympics in the 1950s; Jerry Basi became the vice-captain of the Indian team in the seventies and Bennu Subba, Sherman Dewan and Tarun Mukhia who played for major Kolkata clubs. Lakpa is one of the members of the Darjeeling-based Himalayan Sporting Club which was revived last year after nearly 25 years in hibernation. In fact, today’s scouting camp was organised by its support.

“We are seeing a lull in football in the hills since the glories of the 1980s. There are many factors including sub-standard tournaments and lack of exposure and opportunity. If good football tournaments are not organised, clubs will fail to maintain high standards and that will affect the game as a whole,” the former footballer said, adding initiative such as the one taken by Mohun Bagan and Ekalavya could bring back the lost glory of the region.

Popular local clubs such as Tarun Khelkud, Dynamo, UKFC and Harsingh, to name a few, which once were the stables for providing football talents, have become a shadow of their old selves. Popular tournaments like Harley and Gold Cup are only held once a year while other events like Malla Shield and Jasoda Giri tournament have slowly faded into oblivion. (EOIC)
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