Hosts Manipur hope to lift Santosh Trophy

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updated: February 25, 2007 09:28 IST
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In Manipur, football is not just another game, it's a way of life. And though it boasts of the highest number of star footballers in terms of population, Manipur has never won the country's prestigious Santosh Trophy. The state is hoping that playing host this year will change all that. Practically everybody plays football in Manipur and they play it well. In fact, the national women's team has 10 players from this state. Over 70 Manipuri boys play in various clubs around the country. But what is it that makes football the favourite game here and not cricket? C H Shantikumar, coach, Manipur, remarked, "This is very much a part of our lives. Football is our religion, our culture." Ironically, the lack of football clubs and facilities in the state has meant the best players play for clubs in other states. M Bijen, a footballer, said, "There is financial problem in Manipur. We need money to play good football, so we have to leave the state and go." In fact the exodus has kept the state from winning a single Santosh Trophy. Dr R K Nimaichand Singh, team manager, Manipur, said, "Most of our players are playing outside the state. As far as the norms of the All India Football Association go, they were to represent the state they were playing in." This time the rules are different. The Manipur team thus has some big names in the team including Ratan Singh and James from clubs including Salgaocar and Mahindra United. As host to the tournament, they are making sure they don't disappoint the home crowd and have already won tough games against Himachal Pradesh and Pondicherry. Nimaichand Singh said rather hopefully, "We should at least go through to the semi-final stage." But even if they miss the Cup, for Manipuris, the excitement of hosting the Santosh Trophy is sure to last for a while.