Shillong Lajong Football Club FC, erstwhile known as The Lajong Sports Social and Cultural Club, the name synonymous with Football in Shillong and the North-East, is the region’s most prominent and well known football Club. Ever since its inception in 1983, The Club has made giant strides towards progress in the football scene and beyond. Ever so continuously spreading its fame and popularity to greater heights and untrodden paths, the Club began its ascension with its foray into the much hyped about I-League, which was, to many, an oasis in the desert-a shining beacon in the darkness. Prior to the symbolic year of 2009, the football world in Shillong and the North-East was in tatters. Local Teams were believed that they would never ever scrap past their own backyard, let alone enter the National scene. But the emergence of Shillong Lajong FC gave the people of the region a slight heightened sense of belief that from somewhere, a lifesaver would emerge.
Circa 2009, the people of the region would probably remember it as the” Year of the Reds”. Everything just about clicked for them. The Club ignited the euphoria back home in Shillong with its entry into India’s top flight football, and then made a more re-assuring statement that the Entry was not a flash-in-the-pan.A top notch performance in the Federation Cup, beating top Indian Clubs like Dempo SC and Churchill Brothers, on the way to the Finals of the elite tournament. In the summit clash against Bengal’s most well known and favourite, East Bengal, The Club made a mockery of statistics and expectations, dominating their opponents as if they had been veterans in Indian Football. The team and its ever increasing faithfuls were left heartbroken when they were edged out by a penalty shoot-out.
For the thousands back home, it was a bitter-sweet loss. For they had seen what the Club was capable of , irrespective of the opposition. Indeed , what had transpired in the 2nd Tier I-League was a distant dream. True, It was the Epoch which had started it all, the beginning of the fairytale wedding between expectation and fulfilment. But the Club’s performance in the Fed Cup had taken the relationship further. The region now had an Icon to look up to-a God to worship- A Reason to belief in.
But as with other relationships, the bond between the Club and the football fanatics would always be more of a topsy-turvy, a roller coasting emotional journey. For the Club now had to carry the expectations of the thousands and shoulder the burden of being the only representation from the North-East in the I-League. To many of the people who loved football, nothing less than a win would make them happy as fans of the Club. But to the true “Lajong” die-hards”-the small in number, yet fierce in passion, the Club would always remain their true inspiration ,of fanning their belief in the Club and its purposes. For they knew what would it took to stay in the I-League, to battle against top Clubs-not just in the field but in terms of financial stability, players’ retention and other logistical particulars. For that was the imminent battle before the actual one in the pitch. Little would have many known that the Club was riding on the smallest and most minimal budget of them all, with most teams making the Club look like a minnow on the spending front. On the pitch too, the Club’s army was a heavy dose of home-bred players with a touch of international flavour ,to add spice to the mix. The 2009-2010 season came and went , but the scenario, back home went through a significant change. Quite clearly, the enticement and embodiment of the I-League did not die down-instead it reached greater heights. More and more supporters were drawn into the Club, from all over, and the hordes got bigger with each passing moment of time.
But just as Time had given the Club the extra push, it also gave it the additional pressure, the extra-mile of supporters’ expectations and Prayers. Having made short work of their 2nd Division campaign as Champions, the Club re-entered the I-League for a second season in 2011-12, but this time with a renewed setup and more significantly, with the entire North-East behind their backs, ready to rally behind the team in every game. The season wore on, as the team underwent an all too familiar turbulent ride, carrying its supporters too along the way. The “Whipping Boys” of Indian Football now had a sense of purpose –They would not simply cave in to the demands and swirls of the I-League. At home , they were Conquerors in their own rights and were a force to reckon with, regardless of the Club sparring it out on financial battlegrounds.
Along with the passage of time, the truest of Fans stood firmly behind the team, for they were the lifeline ,the driving force behind the Reds’ charge and objective of its survival in the League.”Survival”- the supporters were beginning to realise that survival was not a one way street. The inflictions of bigger Clubs’ spending power were now on full force, raging the tide , as Shillong Lajong withstood the furious onslaught, both on and off the pitch. At the season’s end , when the dust had settled, the legion of fans had reason to believe that Shillong Lajong had came out with flying colours in its defining “acid” test ,for it stood firm to its roots even as others stumbled and faltered along the way . It had triumphed yet again ,against the odds, and came out stronger, with a more resilient spirit, a will to fight and survive the testing rigours of the League. In hindsight , the support could have came out a little stronger, and the passion could have burned brighter, but nothing could ever take away the fact that the Club and its thousands had sent out a strong message-“We Are Here To Stay, and We Are In It for the Long Haul”. Simply put, everyone associated with football in the North-East, every supporter of the Club in Shillong, which is the Club’s fortress, was slowly realising the ecstasy and the agony of being the lone Shining star of the region, and the enormous burden of “Being Lajong”.
An uphill climb now awaits the Club and its faithfuls, and the expectations will only increase and pile on ,more so with the Club’s impressive pre-season form, after effortlessly bagging the North-East Super Series against an international Club. Whether the Club is ready or not , is not the question-rather the supporters will now need to ask themselves-“Are We Ready to Back the One Thing Which Defines Us, Are We Ready to Walk On, to look beyond defeat and despair, Are We Ready for the Future Which Stands Beyond the Bridge of Ecstasy and Madness….” . The supporter- be it the lone guy at the back waving the Lajong flag, be it the child on his father’s back eagerly entering the match, be it the women dancing away at the Nehru Stadium…be it the Young man with the Lajong fire raging inside of him, They All have a reason to cheer the team, for they are the true definition of A “Faithful”-They are the reason why they and the Club exists….