Football is played and loved all across the world. Every place we go we are bound to meet those crazy football fans. For them football is everything. This beautiful game would not have been the same without the fans. Its always boring to play in an empty stadium.
Along with the fans many other sets of people have made football into the most popular game in the world. To list them out- its the players themselves, coaches, support staffs, media and officials. This is what came to my mind at this ungodly hour when I am writing this piece.
Most of the football officials work behind the scenes and remain very low profile, but their contribution is immense. Without them, a team cannot run smoothly. I have over the years come across many such individuals who love the game so much that they have dedicated their lives to it.
One such individual is Arjun Rai, the ever smiling Senior Manager of United Sikkim FC. Arjun has been with football for more than three decades now, first as a player than as an official. Arjun was born on 25th April 1963 at Naya Bazar, Jorethang in South Sikkim to Late Mr. D.B.Rai and Late Mrs. Nar Maya Rai. Now he lives in Gangtok with his wife Mrs. Lalita Rai. Arjun has one Daughter, Kritika Rai and a Son, Rohen Rai.
Arjun loved football since a very young age and those fun games with his friends soon turned into serious stuff when he started to play for his school team, Tashi Namgyal Higher Secondary School (TNHSS) in Gangtok. This all boys school has always been known for football and during Arjun´s time, they had a very strong team. Arjun used to play as a striker and with THNSS he played in a number of tournaments prominent being the Subroto Cup in 1982. TNHSS had got the entry after being the Sikkim State Champions.
He also represented the Sikkim team in Sub Junior Nationals. Arjun also remembered with pride the one time he represented his state in the Senior Nationals Tournament "Santosh Trophy". During those times Boys Club and Zongri Club were the two best teams in Sikkim and Arjun has the distinction of playing for both the clubs.
By his own admission Arjun did not play for very long. Family matters and other things took most of his time but he could never be cut off from the game completely. People like Arjun in a way keeps the fire of football burning in the Hills. Selfless individuals who can go at any length to support young footballers and on the larger context the game itself. They open clubs, shell out money from their own pockets just so that the game remains alive. They don´t get anything in return but their passion keeps pushing them.
Slowly Arjun moved towards Management, he is also a very good coach and I remember here the first time I saw Arjun Rai at Paljor Stadium. He was my good friend Pranai Rai´s uncle and he calls him Bhai Dada. Along came a man wearing halfpant and track tops from the corner and told us to keep training hard and offered us a few tips as well. What caught my attention even as a young boy was Arjun´s postive energy and that infectious smile on his face. Arjun has four brothers and all of them were interested in football and every Sunday the whole gang used to troop in at Paljor Stadium to practice. I still remember his elder brother crossing the ball and making us head it. Being close to Pranai even I started calling him "Bhai Dada" but later again changed it to "Arjun Daju".
Arjun became a full time Manager in 2004 and took the Sikkim team to Santosh Trophy. They reached the quarter-finals and this is still the best performance by the state in the tournament. Bhaichung was also part of that team. Arjun has been the Manager of Sikkim team in four Santosh Trophies, one women championship, one Junior Nationals and his most recent Santosh Trophy assignment was at Bihar this year. Another feather in his cap was last year where he was appointed as the Manager of Indian Legends team which had greats like I.M. Vijayan, JO Paul Ancheri and Bhaichung Bhutia along with a host of other former and current India International Players.
Talking about Bhaichung Bhutia. Arjun recalled in the late 80s he heard that a very good young player has joined Tashi Namgyal Academy and he along with his friend went to see his game and they were really impressed by what they saw, this boy was special and as Boys Club was in need of some players they quickly took this boy in their fold. That little boy was nonother than Bhaichung Bhutia who went on to become the Legend of India Football. Arjun never claims he spotted Bhaichung and quickly adds that it was his talent which took him to the pinnacle of Indian Football. After joining Boys Club in a few years time Bhaichung was signed by East Bengal after Bhaskar Ganguly spotted him playing at the Governors Gold Cup for the Sikkim team. It gave a lot of joy to Arjun as well. The little boy he had seen a few years back was now joining one of the top clubs of India.
Bhaichung never forgot his Arjun Daju and their bond became stronger year after year and in 2002 the two of them along with Bhaichung´s good friend Sherap Lepcha decided to form a club and they named it United Sikkim Sporting Club. Within a year they were promoted to the top division in Sikkim League. By 2010 they started dreaming of taking this team to the I-League and in 2011 United Sikkim Sporting Club was renamed as United Sikkim Football Club after registering it as a private limited company which is a requirement to play in the 2nd Division I-League. A few years down the line United Sikkim became the first team to qualify for the I-League from the football crazy state of Sikkim. Arjun counts this as his most memorable moment as had always wanted top teams of the country to come and play in Gangtok. The dream came true and within a year some of the biggest names and clubs in Indian Football started to come and play matches against United Sikkim at Paljor Stadium. It must have been surreal for Arjun.
Unfortunately, United Sikkim did not survive in the I-League for long but now again the work has started to play in the I-League with Arjun sending the required letters and documents to All India Football Federation for the entry into the 2nd Division I-League.
Arjun is a very jolly person but it was not always a very happy ride for him in football. Once he had even decided to leave the game and concentrate on his work. He is with the Sports Department, but with his family´s support he continued and what a loss it would have been if Arjun had left football. He is very popular with all the players and during my time at United Sikkim I have seen that special bond he had with the boys. Always joking and laughing with them and one thing he loves to chat. He used to call me to his room and talk with me and taking out his phone he used to say "Should I give a missed call to John Abraham" and we used to have a good laugh. Just recently he had met John in Mumbai along with Bhaichung so he had his number. Another thing I remember is Arjun struggling to explain things to a Japanese player who had no knowledge of English. It used to be funny and once he said "This guy will make me forget whatever English I know."
Arjun´s love affair with football continues till today and just recently United Sikkim FC won the Sikkim League under his guidance. He is now also with the Sikkim Football Association as their Joint Secretary (III) and plans to put in more effort to promote football all over the state. Its somewhat sad that a person like Arjun who has dedicated his life to football has not got the recognition he deserves. Its not everyday you will come across a person like Arjun who has served the game as a player, manager, coach and official. This shows his love and dedication for the game. We honor and award people from different walks of lives for their good work. It about time we start noticing people like Arjun as well. He is an unsung hero of Sikkim Football and it will be disappointing if he remains the same. At least for once, we need to hear this Hero´s song.
Most of the football officials work behind the scenes maintaining a low profile...
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