That's the spirit

RITU RAJ KONWAR

They are the reds of the Northeast. Though a bit distanced from the famous reds of European football such as Manchester United and Liverpool, they exude much verve and spirit when it comes to following the game. In terms of support there cannot be more colourful fans in the country than that of Shillong Lajong FC. The Federation Cup football tournament in Assam (Guwahati and Silchar) presented a riot of red when Shillong Lajong FC progressed to the final.

The region dreams football, and when one of its own teams made it to the Federation Cup, the fervour was there for all to see. The Shillong Lajong fans played the drums, sang the team anthem and rose in a Mexican wave to cheer their team. "The fans signify the tremendous love for the sport in the region," said the Shillong Lajong coach, Stanley Rozario. "They give the team its undying spirit," he added.

Though Lajong is located in Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya, the team's players are mostly from the neighbouring state of Manipur. Together they form the spirit of the Northeast's rise in Indian football.

There is a sophisticated touch to the team. Shillong Lajong is much different from the other sides in the country; it brings in an international feel with its players speaking in English and enjoying a cosmopolitan lifestyle.

"They used to live in isolation, away from the mainstream. Most of the players come from a poor background. They are now soaking up the joy of travelling by flight and staying in big hotels. Life has changed fast for these boys," Rozario pointed out.

Shillong Lajong is only into its second season in the country's mainstream club football. Having struggled to find its way for the past 23 years, the team made it to the top grade of the I-League less than a year ago. It is now determined to stay there for a long time.

Amitabha Das Sharma