The Unsung Heroes
Thangjam Saran Singh: A Soldier On The Field
Manipur has always been the country's football hub when it comes to supplying talented players to the different clubs and also to the National team. Over the years, tiding over the insurgency problem which it has been facing for decades, this North-Eastern state has given host of stars to Indian Football.
Apart from football, other sports too remain witness to Manipuris making a name for themselves. Amongst the hundreds of sportspeople from Manipur unfortunately, only the stars are recognized and celebrated. May be this is the same across the country and the world.
We only like to see, read and hear about the stars and forget about all those breed of athletes who keep on playing the game no matter what. Hitting the headlines doesn't matter to them. What matters is contributing to the team's success.
One such footballer is certainly Thangjam Saran Singh of Churchill Brothers SC. Born to play football, he does that every day without worrying about anything. When approached for this interview, he was very reluctant. "I think I should not promote myself this way. My main job is to play for the team and contribute towards its success" he said.
Eventually, he agreed when he was told this story is not to promote him but to share his untold story with the football fans of the country, many of whom are youngsters who might get encouraged to pursue football as their career.
And Saran's story began…
Singh was born to Late Thangjam Sanatomba Singh and Thangjam Radhe Devi at Yumnam Khonou, Imphal. He is the youngest amongst four sisters and three brothers. Football came naturally to him as most of his family members along with his father were into football though no one played professionally.
As a kid, he used to watch local matches where his family members used to play and started falling in love with the beautiful game, himself. But Singh's father had other plans for his son. He wanted to see him as an Army man one day and Singh was enrolled into Sainik School, Imphal through which he had a chance to make the cut for the National Defense Academy.
Singh was little disappointed but he had to go according to his father's wishes but in Sanik School he got involved more into football as he was quickly selected in the school team. With the team, he played in many tournaments, prominent ones being the Inter Sainik Schools East Zone Tournaments and the Subroto Mukherjee Football tournament in 2000 at New Delhi.
Along with football, Singh also pursued his love for athletics and won many best athlete awards during his years at the Sainik School.
Singh recalls, "When I was in class XI, I had to make a big decision. I wanted to pursue football as a career but I was preparing myself to become an Army man in school. I even got a feeling that I was going against what I was learning. All night I used to think about this but finally I choose football as that was my calling."
To satisfy his father he studied hard and passed out of the Sainik School with an option to join the National Defense Academy. This might have given some comfort to his father as he knew his son was capable of being an Army man but he decided to go towards football.
But today, Late Sanatomba Singh might be smiling down from heaven, looking at his son, as he is still a soldier on the field. Disciplined, Hardworking and ready to give his all to defend his club's pride and honour.
After passing out from School, Singh joined DM College, Imphal and played in many inter college tournaments. He was selected to represent Manipur University in the All India Inter University tournament which was held in West Bengal. Along with the College team he also played for many local clubs in the Manipur State League - YOSE FC, USA FC and YWC Thambal Khang being the prominent ones.
He also represented the Manipur Under-21 team in 2 National Tournaments and by then had become confident of himself to take that big step of turning professional and playing for one of the best clubs in India.
He was confused about this but help came from his senior Itocha Singh who was playing at Churchill Brothers SC during that time and Singh's name was referred to the club by Itocha. So in 2007 Singh signed for Churchill Brothers and has remained with the club till date.
Singh has quietly achieved so much success with Churchill Brothers, winning the I-league 2 times, IFA Shield on one occasion and 3 Durand Cups and to top it all up, he has also played an important role in the club's maiden Federation Cup victory in January this year.
But it has not been all rosy for this versatile player from Manipur who is comfortable in almost all positions. In 2009 Singh suffered a major knee injury and had to undergo a surgery. This was at a time when he had started to feel he had matured as a professional footballer and his game was looking up.
Singh said, "After the injury I had to start all over again, It was a tough phase, I was really disappointed as I nearly lost a year on rehabilitation and getting back that confidence to play again."
On being asked what has kept him at Churchill Brothers for so long, Singh smiles and adds, "Well first of all I like it here in Goa. It's like my second home and then the Churchill family is another reason."
"They have always treated me like I am part of them and the boss Churchill Alemao's passion for the game is inspiring. He loves the game from his heart and for myself I play the game from my heart. So maybe, we have gelled well on this aspect. It has been an absolute pleasure to play for Churchill Brothers and I hope to spent many more fruitful years here".
It might be mentioned here Singh has just played for one other club in his career thus far. In 2009-10 season he had donned the colours of JCT in the I-League but he quickly came back to Goa again.
Oh his prospect of wearing the National team jersey Singh said "I dont know much about that. I just have to keep working hard and may be, one day I will get a call for the National team". Deep within he might have another answer but he kept it to himself.
Yes it's a fact some players get the recognition faster than the others. May be Thangjam Saran Singh falls in that category of footballers who have to work extra hard to see their name in the National team. But he has no time to complain as he is more focused on doing the job for Churchill Brothers, who have been going through a rough patch in the I-league.
May be, along the way, the National team coach might sit up and take notice of this Manipuri lad.