Updated: December 12, 2016 1:57:13 pm
For the last seven years, former Indian junior football player Ranjeet Bajaj’s focus has been getting Punjab and Chandigarh back on to the Indian national football scene. A year after his club — Minerva Football Club — made their debut in the AIFF I league second division and finished at the second spot after Dempo FC, the Chandigarh club was inducted into the 2017 I-League season by AIFF along with Chennai City FC on Sunday. Five clubs had submitted their evaluation bids, and AIFF and Minerva FC’s bid was accepted two days after the team was denied the automatic spot after I League Second division winners Dempo FC had pulled out of the I League 2017 season.
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“It is a proud moment for all of us. Punjab football had looked upon JCT Phagwara and after they shut shop in 2011, there was no club left in I league and at the national scene. It was our debut season in I League second division last season, and we were the only team which managed to win against every team in the tournament. We won the Western Conference title where we also defeated Dempo FC 1-0. We look towards providing opportunity from the five states in this region to come and play with us. Our youngster Sehajpal scored five goals in I League Second Division and playing in the I League will provide a lot of confidence to such players,” shared former Indian junior football player Ranjeet Bajaj, CEO and founder of Minerva FC.
The foundations of the club were laid by Bajaj’s grandfather Lt Col IS Deol in the 1970’s. Initially, the players would represent the local school. The last seven years saw Minerva FC winning junior tournaments at the state level. The senior team of the club won the Western India Conference I league Second Division title with seven wins and three draws. The Minerva FC junior team also won the U-15 AIFF Youth League earlier in May this year when they defeated Royal Wahingdoh Club 4-3 via a penalty shoot-out in Goa. The senior team also reached the semifinals of the DSK Cup last month, apart from featuring in the Durand Cup. “Winning the Western India Conference title gave our players the confidence to perform well at the national level too. The average age of our team is 19.5 years and our Nigerian striker Kareem has been helping the youngsters a lot. To beat a North-Eastern club in the AIFF youth league helped our junior boys and these boys can also look forward to nurture their I league dreams. Our senior team goalkeeper Arsh also came through our junior team programme,” added Bajaj.
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With Chandigarh lacking an international football stadium, the team is forced to play their matches at the national level at Guru Nanak Stadium, Ludhiana. The I league too would see Minerva FC playing against teams like East Bengal, Mohan Bagan and Bengaluru FC at Ludhiana and the Surinder Singh coached team is eagerly waiting for January 17. “In states like West Bengal, football clubs get assistance of Rs one crore every year. We have not had any support from Punjab Government or Chandigarh administration and we had to pay the registration fee for every ground. We have three grounds at Mohali and the players train and stay there, apart from training at the Sector 17 Football Stadium on booking. Hopefully, we will also get some sponsors before the season begins,” added Bajaj.
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