High school football: A tournament that faded away

The class got news that the game had entered extra time. Only a penalty shoot out would decide the game. In the class, some boys started shaping chalk pieces into small balls. One hastily makes a post out of a page torn from the notebook.

The shoot out begins. Legjay, the stout defender and the senior with the “most-powerful” kick sends his high and wide. Paro High School loses to Motithang in the shootout staged in the class. News soon reaches the school that Paro has won. The bell rings. Evening study is over. Everybody talks of the victory over dinner and into the night study.

This is a recollection of an experience from one high school football tournament. This was in the eighties and nineties. There was nothing like football including inter high school tournaments. Football was the most popular event that drew spectators in the thousands at the Changlimithang ground. On weekends, in the crowd would be villagers returning from the weekend market with their sacks and tsews (baskets) to cheer their local school team.

There was no TV or internet, therefore no live broadcast or streaming. This added excitement to the tournament. Neutral Thimphu residents would always support and cheer for teams coming from the dzongkhags. Yangchenphug, Motithang and RTI Kharbandi (the then Royal Institute of Technology) would always win the tournament. Adding to the fun was the late self-proclaimed local football pundit and commentator, Danny, whose presence lit up the match and made spectators happy.

As many watch professional European football matches that are broadcast live into our sitting rooms, local football has taken a back seat. Add to that local leagues and school level football tournaments have faded.

School football tournament is back. Although the youth and sports department organised tournaments every winter, the charm was lost perhaps because of TV and internet or more popular local leagues.

Bhutan Football Federation taking over the initiative is a good decision, which many will welcome. It is not sure if the excitement level will be the same as in the nineties, but bringing the tournament to Thimphu, after the initial rounds, would make the tournament competitive.

It also opens a window of opportunities for students. It would be a good ground to hunt for talents for local football clubs. Some students will get good exposure playing in better facilities and environment.

The BFF is offering scholarships for good players and a chance for a school team to compete in regional tournaments. We will also have a bigger pool to build a national team. Good players in schools and colleges are identified, trained and then drafted into professional sports everywhere. Today, there are still some who question the selection process and even accuse authorities of selecting players from Thimphu only.

Football has developed. We have now a couple of competitive leagues. Some are finding football as a career and practice their trade in more competitive leagues in other countries. Prices are attractive and sponsors interested. Our football clubs, although struggling, are influenced by the bigger leagues. Clubs are hiring international players and making the leagues more competitive.

While the global trend determines sports in the country, like hiring foreign players, the decision to revive the high school, now higher secondary school, tournaments is a decision many students would appreciate.

We could see some hidden local talents shine at Changlimithang once again and, hopefully, excite Thimphu residents.

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