Manipur enjoyed a state-declared half-holiday on Thursday to commemorate the most festive occasions that evoke passion in these enchanted lands – a gritty game of football. The exciting local derby where Neroca FC defeated TRAU FC 3-1 was played out in front of a jam-packed stadium.
A huge number of fans turned up to witness the inaugural match played in Imphal’s Khuman Lampak stadium, and the 6 pm kickoff had a run-up which witnessed traffic congestion in the city from as early as 2 pm. A large number of people were seen gathering outside the venue in the lead-up, and the filled stands erupted in exhilaration when Neroca FC’s Nigerian forward John Chidi Uzodinma netted the final goal on the back of a defensive error.
Those who missed out, didn’t hide their disappointment. Many fans were left gasping for tickets which were sold out a day before the inaugural match. “What’s the point of declaring the day as half-holiday when many of the fans did not get tickets to witness the game”, lamented M. Bishworjit, a football fan and resident of Iroisemba Imphal West district. The Khuman main stadium where the inaugural match was played has a capacity of only 25,000. Heaving as it was with exuberance of those who managed to get in, it couldn’t obviously accommodate passions of the football-mad state.
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Tangva Ragui had put the Orange brigade of NEROCA ahead in the 16th minute, only for TRAU’s Komron Tursunov to equalise three minutes later. But thereafter NEROCAdidnt lift foot off the pedal as Thomyo headed in the 36th minute to reclaim the lead, before the 50th minute cherry on the top from the Nigerian star.
The stadium had pulsated after NEROCA netted a goal 16 minutes into the match, while many of the ticket holders were seen still trying to get into the stadium.“I bought a Rs 100 ticket and have been waiting to get into the stadium for several minutes even after the match started but I am unable to do so. I am told by the security at the gate that the stadium is already full,” said Bungo, a resident of Top Leirak, Imphal East district.
Prior to the inaugural match, a colourful display of cultural dances, band display as well Durand Cup theme songs from iconic Papon and Rewben Mashangva enthralled the jam-packed audience till the arrival of Union defense minister Rajnath Singh. Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, a former footballer, and GOC of Eastern Command were among the dignitaries attending the match. The defense minister lauded the development of the region, known amongst other things for its sporting pedigree and football fandom.
The Durand Cup is Asia’s oldest and the world’s third oldest football tournament, and carries a legacy of being organized by the Indian Armed Forces, for over 100 years. Since the inaugural edition in Shimla in 1888, when it started off as an Army Cup, open only to the British Indian Army troops in India, the Durand Cup has been open to civilian teams, with waxing and waning interest over the years from the leading sides of the day.
Named after its founder, Mortimer Durand, who served as foreign secretary of British India from 1884 to 189, the iconic tournament reached its 130th edition in 2021. Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have been the most successful teams, winning the tournament 16 times each. The Durand Cup’s entry into the north east though was like homecoming for football in a part of the country that nurses the sport at its grassroots and was graced by the Defence Minister.
The derby done, the next match in Imhal will be held on August 20 at Main Stadium Khuman Lampak with Chennaiyan FC taking on Army Red at 3 pm. Two teams will make their first appearance in the tournament, as the Kerala Blasters take on Sudeva FC of Delhi at the Indira Gandhi Athletic stadium in Guwahati.