In 1964, the residents of Naoremthong, a locality on the outskirts of Imphal decided that they needed a club to give exposure to the budding footballers of the mohalla.

The Kangchup Road Young Physical and Sports Association was born and along with it, the hopes and dreams of Naoremthong. As they prepare to make their Indian Women’s League final round debut, Kryphsa, as the club is known, will look to emulate the efforts of Eastern Sporting Union, the defending champions.

Kryphsa though, is no sister club of ESU’s. Packed with ten Indian internationals, they will look to escape the shadow of the title holders and make a name for themselves. Indian women’s captain Bala Devi, experienced internationals such as Ratanbala Devi, Dangmei Grace, Roshni Devi, Ashalata Devi will play with the likes of U-16 captain Papi Devi in a team boasting a power-packed all-Manipuri contingent.

Kryphsa practising prior to the IWL. (Image courtesy: Krypsha Salai Football Club)

A crowd-funded community club

Last year, Kryphsa didn’t have the best of times in the preliminary round of the IWL, clubbed with ESU, Puducherry’s Jeppiar University and Uttar Pradesh FC. They suffered two second-half collapses against ESU and Jeppiar, going down 1-4 and 0-3 to the two teams respectively.

Despite taking an early lead against ESU, four-time winners of the women’s league in Manipur, Kryphsa conceded four late goals against their Manipuri counterparts, a brace by Arjuna Awardee Bembem Devi among them. With the pull-out of the ISL, I-League teams, the team was then invited to take part in the final round but couldn’t afford the travel and logistical expenses.

“Last year, we were invited by the All India Football Federation to participate in the final round,” said Kryphsa president Nabachandra Singh. “We could not afford to do so at that point. This year, we finished second in our qualifying group which meant that we didn’t progress initially. But an Imphal-based NGO stepped forward to take care of our expenses and I’m very happy that the girls are getting this exposure.”

The club follows an unorthodox method of collecting funds. Nabachandra said that Kryphsa trains 40 women at the Under-18 level, while 30 others train with the team at the senior women’s level. Funds, which are collected from the 3,500 households in the Naoremthong area are used as the base for equipment and gear while tambola games – which are held twice a year and are very popular in the Imphal area – also contribute a sizeable amount to the club’s coffers.

Chaoba Devi (sitting, leftmost) posing for a picture with the team in front of the Kryphsa office. (Image courtesy: Kryphsa Salai Football Club)

Aiming to go one better

This year’s performance at the qualifiers, held at the Rajarshi Shahu Stadium in Kolhapur, saw a remarkable improvement. In a tough seven-team group along with ESU, West Bengal’s Chandney Sporting Club, Delhi-based Hans Women’s Football Club and India Rush Soccer Club, Kryphsa finished second, winning four, drawing one and losing one of their matches.

The 1-1 draw against ESU was the only match in which the defending champions dropped points en route to topping their group and clinching automatic qualification. It was an improvement on last season’s 4-1 result but the 2-1 loss against Chandney meant that Kryphsa finished second.

Chaoba Devi is furious at the result. “The girls should have won that match,” she said. “They were overconfident going into the tie and totally blew it. We made a lot of mistakes at the back and didn’t take our chances going ahead.”

A former international herself and captain of the team at the Bangkok Asian Games 1998, Chaoba has been with the club since the inception of the women’s team in 2004. “I have been a coach at the club for the last 14 years. I retired from the game in 2003 and earned my (AFC) A-License. Previously in our generation, we had to worry about what families would think about women playing football. These girls have no such qualms and with the presence of many idols to look forward to, can concentrate on the game.”

Goalkeeping practice going on in earnest at Kryphsa's ground. (Image courtesy: Kryphsa Salai Football Club)

Bala Devi is extra motivated

For Bala Devi, it is a chance for redemption after missing out on a winner’s medal with ESU last year. The Indian women’s captain had played the qualifiers with ESU last year before an injury saw her ruled out of the final round as the team captained by Bembem romped to the title.

“It is definitely a motivating factor for me after missing out on the title last year and also losing the senior women’s national championships title to Tamil Nadu. I have told the younger players the same thing as well, that we must not be afraid of any team,” said Kryphsa’s skipper Bala.

Long considered the natural heir to Bembem’s legacy, the Manipur Police employee had captained the Indian women to the 2016 SAFF Championship title. Bala has 32 goals in 33 games for the Blues, and has won everything there is to win at the domestic level, barring the IWL.

Despite a number of last-year’s ESU squad shifting to Kryphsa, Bala, the 2014 and 2015 AIFF’s Women’s Player of the Year, said the job is far from done. “We cannot take any team for granted. I’ve heard that some teams are bringing in foreigners. We must be careful of all our opponents.”

Chaoba echoes the sentiment: “In a round-robin league, every game is like a final. We can’t afford to slip up even once. After the qualifiers, the girls have worked extra hard. Hopefully, this will pay off in Shillong.”