Sentinels of Sikkim Football

Sentinels of Sikkim Football
Sat, May 11, 2019

Football has given me a lot in life: Sanjay Chettri

The skies open up here almost every evening, summer is short-lived, and Sikkim braces for the arrival of monsoon. Called as the anthem of Mother Nature, monsoon is also known to sing a football rhapsody in this Himalayan State.
As the rivers and rivulets swell up, the petrichor emanating from the open spaces here rejuvenates Sikkim Football from its wintry decadence. Organisers hustle and bustle to plan for football tournaments, notably the Independence Day football tournament, and before that, the Sikkim Premier League.
Footballers also get busy, refreshing their skills and getting to match fitness, like the dark clouds above Gangtok town about to explode into Paljor Stadium. Many are rookies and eager to play club-level football and others are experienced campaigners wanting another season.
And there are special warhorses about to plunge into another battle, battered after years of service but relentless in every sense.
Sanjay Chettri, 29 years, is one such tenacious warhorse in the Sikkimese football landscape.
The ardent footballer, coming from Kyongsa ground near Geyzing, has been a permanent picture of Sikkim football for more than a decade. The coming season, no matter how many times he has played, injects another adrenaline rush into his system to prepare for the remaining six months of football in his home State.
Not much about Sanjay has been recorded in different forms of media given the success of his more illustrious batchmates like Nirmal Chettri, Sanju Pradhan, Robin Gurung and Bikash Jairu. However, the fact is that this right winger has always been a loyal servant of Sikkim Football doing his job to safeguard Sikkim’s popular game without much fuss.
Sanjay started his football journey as an apprentice in Namchi Sports Hostel, a government-run football academy in Namchi, in 2001. He was among the second batch of ‘Search for More Bhaichungs’ scheme launched by the State government in 1999. Sharing his hostel dormitory were Nirmal Chettri and Bikash Jairu, both of whom went to play for India and top clubs of the country. Together, they were upgraded to State Sports Academy (SSA), Paljor Stadium in Gangtok to further learn their trade and avail senior secondary level education.
Like every pass-out from the SSA after completing class XII, Sanjay went out of the State to explore his potential as a professional footballer sometime in 2009. He, playing as a right winger, first went to Mohun Bagan football academy. He then spent three years in Shillong playing for the clubs there in Shillong League.
‘The job of a right winger is to attack, supply the ball to the striker and also to help the defence. I generally move up and down the pitch, both assisting the forwards and also supporting the defenders,” says Sanjay.
Sanjay eventually returned back to his home State and could take his pick of the clubs here. He was roped in by United Sikkim FC and played in local tournaments and also in second division I-League. He has also played for Sinolchu FC and Sikkim Himalayan SC but most of his playing years have been with the Snow Lions.
“I am happy with my football journey so far. I could not become a big professional footballer but I have no regrets whatsoever. Coming from a small village, I have managed to experience so many things in life, travel different places within and outside Sikkim, made many friends and made a name for myself through football,” says Sanjay.
Sanjay, in his State career, has won the State Premier League four times. He has also played in Nepal and Bhutan football tournaments with United Sikkim FC.
It was with United Sikkim FC that Sanjay won the Super Cup 2017 one time and Sikkim Premier League three times. He had also won the Sikkim Premier League one time with Sinolchu. He is a regular in the annual Governor’s Gold Cup football tournament and has reached the semi-final stage also.
Sanjay remembers winning the Super Cup 2017 as a memorable moment for him. Winning the Super Cup is particular memorable as it was the first football tournament in Sikkim organised under floodlights at Paljor Stadium, he said.
Sanjay has represented the State in national level tournaments like Santosh Trophy many times while also playing in top tournaments like Durand Cup and Federation Cup for his clubs.
“I will continue to play till my body allows, I think I can play in State leagues and other tournaments for some more years,” says Sanjay. He married recently and looks forward to become an entrepreneur in coming days after hanging up his boots.
Sanjay is also a founder member of Football Players Association of Sikkim (FPAS) set up last year. He believes that the FPAS is vital for the welfare and growth of the Sikkimese footballers, especially the new comers.
“FPAS is good for the players. The association can do a lot of things for the players. We are almost at the end of our career but the new, upcoming footballers would greatly benefit of FPAS. It is a good initiative and we welcome more players coming to join the FPAS,” says Sanjay.

- This article is the first in the ‘Sentinels of Sikkimese Football’ series and is a joint collaboration of SIKKIM EXPRESS and Football Players Association of Sikkim (FPAS).

Area: 7096 Sq Km
Altitude: 5,840 ft
Population: 6.10 Lakhs
Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 ft. to over 28,509 ft above sea level
Summer: Max- 21°C ; Min – 13°C
Winter: Max -13°C ; Min – 0.48°C
Rainfall: 325 cm per annum
Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi