Our region ,the hills of Darjeeling and Sikkim has over the years produced plenty of talented footballers, but most of us are not aware of them, especially the players from yester years. Late Chandan Singh Rawat’s name comes first to my mind. He was a great player born in Darjeeling and went on to play for India .Then it was Late Pem Dorjee who was a talented Stopper who played for almost all the big clubs and even captained the Indian National team. He was from Kalimpong but later on settled in Sikkim. I know the names of other players too but have very limited details about them. But I could meet one of them in my recent visit to Kalimpong, He was an exceptional forward of his times. The details are as follows-
It was in 2007 when I had gone to Kalimpong and played in the league there that I had first heard about this Gentleman from my friend. He had told me that this man was like a legend there and people used to flock the ground just to watch him play and when I asked what was the players name my friend told me “Mini” which was his nickname name, later on I found out his real name was Urgen Lama. Since then I had wanted to meet him but had not got a chance. But things changed this year.
After a quick call to Mini I and my friend reached his house in the market area of Kalimpong. The moment he opened the door. I could figure out why he was called Mini. He has a short stature and doesn’t have that footballers built. But a glance around the room proved that there was nothing small about his achievement as the wall along with the wardrobes is decorated with the trophies and certificates he has won over the years. We wished him, offered him a Khada and he directed us to sit down. Then his story began.
Born in the year 1953 to Late K.D Lama and Late Narmada Devi Lami, Urgen Lama (Mini) had started his footballing journey in the year 1969 when he was called up to play for his school team, Scottish University Mission Institution (SUMI),Kalimpong. He was just 16 years of age then. He had no other footballers in the family and it was his self-interest and passion for the game along with the claps and adulation showered by the people which inspired him to play football. His father was a classical singer and a very well known figure.
In the year 1971 a team from West Sikkim hired him to play in a tournament and it was here he got the nick name “Mini”. A local newspaper had carried his story and they had called him Mini. Which remains till date as I found out that very few people know his real name even in his home town. 1974 was a turning point in his career as he received an invitation from the King of Bhutan to play for their National team. So Mini without a second thought packed his bags and left for Bhutan.He also got a job there and started playing for the National Team. Mostly they travelled to India and participated in almost all the major tournaments like the Durand Cup, DCM Trophy and the Bordoli Trophy. During the Gorkha Gold Cup in Darjeeling in year 1977 he won the Best Player Award. He stayed in Bhutan till 1981 and in his last year there he helped the team with his exceptional performance to win the Shillong Invitational Cup. He had got a wide media coverage then. In 1979 he also played a season with the Kolkata side Bharati Sangha.
After coming back to Kalimpong for a brief while Mini joined the Kolkata giants Mohammedan Sporting Club in 1982 and gave an impressive performance in the Kolkata League along with the All India Governor’s Gold Cup in Sikkim. Very next year he took his performance even further and was awarded the Best Player’s Trophy in the All India Governor’s Gold Cup.
1983 was a sad year for Mini as he lost his mother but he never kept himself away from Football. He took an offer from Sikkim to be their coach cum player and went on to play seven Santosh Trophy tournaments. During his stay in Sikkim he met a young and budding footballer back then, Bhaichung Bhutia. He was posted in Namchi during those days and Bhaichung’s School team coach Manas Chakraborthy had requested Mini to coach Bhaichung during one of the winter breaks as the School team had no practice during this period. He had found Bhaichung to be very skillful and disciplined. Years later after becoming the star of Indian Football, Bhaichung had not forgotten “Mini Daju” as he invited him for his wedding. He also narrated an incident ,all his friends were jostling to take a picture with Bhaichung at the wedding but he felt a bit shy to ask Bhaichung to click a picture with him so he just sat there. But Bhaichung himself came and asked the Photographer to click him with Mini Daju (Elder brother in Nepali).All the other guests and friends looked at him and he felt a sense of pride as the icon of Indian football himself was interested to take a picture with him.
Mini also narrated couple of other interesting and funny incidents. He could not recall the year of this incident but it was at a tournament in Biratnagar (Nepal).Shayam Thapa had put together a team which included Thapa himself along with Pem Dorjee and other star players of those days. They had reached the finals after playing four matches and a day before the final match their striker had fallen sick and Shayam Thapa asked Mini to join the team in his place. So he travelled to Biratnagar from Kalimpong, quite a long journey and headed straight to the ground. He gave a wonderful performance ,even scored a goal and also bagged the man of the match award along with the best player of the tournament by just playing one game!! So we can imagine how well he must have played because this is an amazing feat for any level of football. He added later with a smile that Pem Dorjee was the favorite to win these two trophies.
Another incident was in Sikkim when he had gone to meet the then Sports Minster PS Golay. He met his personal secretary and filled up the visitors slip with his name. But even after two hours the minister did not call him to his room. So he asked the personal secretary to remind the minister that someone was waiting for him. The minister himself came out of his chamber asking who was Urgen Lama?. He got up to wish him. The minister smiled at him and said you should have wrote “Mini” in the slip and said sorry to him and ushered him to his chamber.
In the year 1989 Mini decided to hang his boots but not before another memorable performance in the All India Governor’s Gold Cup where he won the best goal of the tournament award. It was in a match against Sesa Goa where he scored with a side volley from twenty yards off a cross from the right. He regrets that they did not have video recordings back then. Even I feel it must have been a wonderful goal, but unfortunately we can never see it.
Now Mini is the President of the Kalimpong Sports Assocation and his lifelong love affair with football continues till date. He is also working as the coach of Dr Graham’s Homes for the past three years. Some years back he along with other like minded individuals set up the Kalimpong Football Academy, which is a non-residential facility and the boys train at Mela ground (A public ground of Kalimpong) two times a day. He seemed happy that this project has started showing results now as many talented footballers are coming up as football in the hills had taken a back seat after the Gorkhaland agitation of the eighties.
Mini’s contribution to football has not been recognized by the Government till date as he has not received any awards or honors. But he has no complains. He is just happy that he played the beautiful game and people still talks about his playing days. Even I found this out as whenever I mentioned the name “Mini” in Kalimpong the people responded with “Oh what a wonderful player he was” He still plays for the Kalimpong Veterans team and according to my friend he still troubles the defenders who are much younger to him. I think he considers this as the greatest honor, the people’s love and affection towards him. So next time when you go to Kalimpong and a match is on at Mela ground and you see a short stature player running into defenders you can bet nine out of ten times that the person is Mini.
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