At a time when playgrounds are vanishing from the heart of the city and space is becoming precious, one club in a crowded locality is still protecting the much needed space for the community.
The playground of Nongthymmai Sports and Cultural Club is a relief in the congested Jingping area. The bamboo gate makeover of the entrance is a sign of celebrations. The club, counted among the oldest in the city, is in its 75th year and does not even look or feel its age. Over the years, Nongthymmai club has defied all odds to become more energetic and diverse in its activities.
Established in 1944 by the Dorbar Shnong of a greater Nongthymmai than what it is now, the club is supported and administered by eight Dorbar Shnong. Bawan Khyriem, its current president, said the founder members had the vision to unite the youth through sports and “we are trying to follow in their footsteps”.
The club started with football, hockey and athletics and was considered one of the best in all the three disciplines. It had played at the inter-state level in erstwhile Calcutta and wore the crown in many of the local tournaments in undivided Assam. “This ground was prepared by our forefathers by cutting a hillock. It was used for archery in the early days. Later, when the club came into being, it became the players’ practice ground,” Khyriem looked back in time.
This was the most popular club during World War II and the football team at that time was famous for short passing. Footballers from the club once represented undivided Assam at the national level.
In a recollection published in the club’s 50th anniversary souvenir, a member wrote, “Before going to Karimganj, there was practice every morning at Polo ground where players from different clubs under Shillong Sports Association came even if they were not selected for the final. Woodward Sohliya and Sharlington Dympep have helped us tremendously by coming to the ground every morning to help the captain, general secretary and football secretary. The first goalie was Supong Ao and the second was Bimal Choudhury. Supong was popular during the game in Karimganj. The captain of the team was Shlur Nongbri (He passed away. Now all we have are memories). The general secretary during this time was LG Shullai and the football secretary was E W Jyrwa. Jyrwa was one of the most prominent players. He even played for Assam in the Inter-State Football Tournament which was held in Calcutta. Shillong, from time to time, sends players to the Assam team. Maybe there are reasons that Shillong is not yet equipped to promote players. Shillong is happy that Fullmoon Pyrtuh will be in the national football arena and we are waiting for other talented players as well.”
Another former member, Dr C Wolflang, wrote, “I remember as a kid how exciting it was to go and watch the players of Nongthymmai Sports Club (NSC) play in Polo ground. The players with their green and red striped jersey. The goalkeeper with his yellow or red jersey standing at the goal post. Bah Harding was the goalkeeper at that time and he was one of the best goalkeepers of NSC. The boots of the players were really hard and when they shot the ball, it flew like an arrow. The boots were called hardnose unlike now where they call it softnose. Most teams have numbers written on their jerseys but NSC had ‘NONGTHYMMAI’ written on them. At that time, there was no substitution. If any player was injured or chased away from the field, the remaining 10 players had to continue the match. There was no red or yellow card but there was verbal warning.”
Now, the Nongthymmai club has disciplines like cricket, basketball, table tennis, martial arts and indoor games. It also runs a football academy for U-15 players since 2014 and participates in the baby league.
The academy has four coaches, including one with ‘A’ coaching certificate. There are over a hundred students, both girls and boys. The minimum age is five years.
“Our football team is in the second division (in the state league) and the cricket team is in the super division,” said treasurer Karan Lal Joshi, one of the oldest members. The cricket team became the champions of the first division of the Shillong Cricket League 2019.
Coaching in cricket resumed in 2008 after years of hiatus.
Adjacent to the playground is the indoor stadium. Badminton is played almost every evening. Behind the indoor stadium is the club house, a room big enough to accommodate 20-30 members.
On the occasion of the platinum jubilee, the club has decided to introduce archery, the state’s traditional game, and other local sports like mawpoin and dienghai. “We will organise these games as part of our year-long celebrations. We have also formed a committee for the revival of the sports. The intention is to make people aware of our traditional sports and give youngsters the opportunity to experience these sports,” said Khyriem.
The year-long celebrations will include cultural programmes too. Seventeen localities will participate in all the events. On August 29, a penalty shootout was held on the occasion of National Sports Day and 60 teams from Nongthymmai localities participated.
The array of events includes quiz competition, musical evenings and beauty pageant.
Most of the senior members of the club are associated with it since childhood and have a strong bonding with the organisation. “We are passionate about sports and dedicated to the cause of promoting sports,” said vice-president T Shullai, another veteran member.
It is this love for sports that prompts all members to face any challenge. Financial problem remains a constant headache as the club is run at the locality level, according to general secretary John Cajee.
“We incur expenses of around Rs 7-8 lakh for one session of football. We cannot afford this as there is no constant source of funding. There is also no help from any private party or local businessman. The going gets tough for us but we want to see the club progress,” said Joshi.
The club seldom gets help from MLA and MDC schemes. In 1994, the indoor stadium was built with fund from the North East Council that also helped in the construction of toilets. The members try to generate funds by renting out the playground on occasions. At the inaugural function of the 75th year celebrations, MLA Charles Pyngrope announced Rs 1-lakh donation for the event and Rs 6 lakh for the club building.
But the members consider financial and other hurdles as part of a bigger task. “The club wants to produce good players. We also want to promote sports as a healthy recreation among youths,” said Khyriem.
~ Nabamita Mitra & Heather C Phanwar