New Delhi: For those who have maintained that spreading the I-League across the country would arrest the dwindling popularity of the game, the set of results in the Second Division league on Saturday must have come as a pleasant surprise.
With Lajong FC, Pune FC, Viva Kerala and Salgaocar clearing the qualification hurdle, the I-League next season will be played in three new centres at Shillong, Pune and Kerala.
The promotion of Lajong has certainly come as a big boost for the north-eastern states, where football is an immensely popular game.
There is not one big club in India who do not have a player from Manipur, Mizoram or Meghalaya, said Larsing M, the vice-president of Lajong Football Club.
Yet there was no team from the north-east in the I-League. We will be able to fill the vacuum, said Larsing, who is also an executive committee member of the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
Surprisingly, Lajong had a small budget for the season and still managed to beat all top teams in the Second Division. Our budget was less than Rs 1 crore, informed the Lajong official.
In the north-east, we do not have enough corporate backing, but we cover it up with natural talent and an abundance of human resource, he added.
In the past few years, Lajong have produced some top players like Rocus Lamare, Marcus Basumatari and Marlanki Suting. All of them have played for India at the junior level. They moved out of the state because there was no prominent club side in our area, Larsing said.
The Lajong management claimed that Shillong would prove to be one of the best I-League centres in the country. The Nehru Stadium has top-class facilities and there are two other good grounds in the city, which can be used for practice by visiting teams.
Unlike some of the top clubs in the country, the Meghalaya club, formed in 1983, have already fulfilled the criteria for club licensing. The club also have junior teams in the under-16 and under-19 age groups.