Former I-League club United Sikkim FC on Sunday decided to shut shop to “focus on grassroots football” and avoid “conflict of interest” issues arising out of its founder Bhaichung Bhutia’s association with the state governing body of the game.

Former Indian football team captain Bhutia said in a statement that his club, founded in 2004, will be closed down after 15 years of existence during which it made it to the country’s top-tier I-League in 2012-’13 season after winning the second division league.

“This has been a very difficult decision for us to take. It is with great pain that we are announcing that United Sikkim Football Club will cease to exist from today,” the club said in the statement.

“We have come to a decision to shut the club after 15 years of existence for two reasons majorly. Firstly, to focus on grassroot football and secondly, there has been a huge conflict of interest since both Bhaichung and Arjun are now part of the Sikkim Football Association,” the statement signed by Bhaichung read.

United Sikkim FC played in the 2012-13 I-League but was relegated from next season. Since then, the club has been playing in the state premier division (S-League), winning four titles.

“United Sikkim was formed in 2004 by three friends, Bhaichung Bhutia, Arjun Rai and Sherap Lepcha and turned into a professional club for a short period of time in 2011.

“We were the first club from Sikkim and only the second from the Northeast to play in the I-League which was the highest league at that time. During that period, 14 to 18 local players were playing in the highest league in the country, compared to three or four players currently,” the club said.

It said quite a few players were also sent for trials to different clubs in India.

“Komal Thatal was sent to Kolkata by USFC to play the Manchester Cup, where he was selected for the U-14 Indian team academy. One of the biggest products of USFC is Sandesh Jhingan, currently Indian national team player.”

Besides four state league titles, United Sikkim won the Independence Cup twice.

It was the only club in India to have been sponsored by Nike in the I-League and by Lotto last year, the club statement said.