The Lyngdoh in our loom

He’s Among The Smallest In The Blues’ Developmental Squad, But Damaitphang Lyngdoh Lets Nothing Come Between Him And Tall Orders…

Ninety-three minutes had passed at the Bengaluru Football Stadium where Damaitphang Lyngdoh and his teammates were staring at defeat. Up against FC Bengaluru United in a clash that needed the Blue Colts to pick up a point at the least to keep themselves in the race for the BDFA Super Division title, goals from Robert Primus and Daniel Carr had pegged Lyngdoh’s side back.

“We were down 1-0 at half time, and we had been in that situation before. Keeping calm was important, because we knew the goals would come. And when Shiva scored, the table stood in our favour, but then FCBU took the lead again. Those last few minutes taught me more than most football matches I’ve played in,” Lyngdoh recalls.

Ambling with possession in the opposition half, the Blue Colts built patiently. Crosses into the box had sometimes zipped straight through, and on other occasions begged for contact. Three separate shouts for penalties had been denied. Then, three minutes into added time, Jagdeep Singh floated a cross into the box. He’d been waiting for the second ball all along, but Lyngdoh says a switch had flicked in his mind.

“I know I’m not the tallest, and I’m usually waiting to feed on scraps outside the box. But when I saw the ball falling into an empty area, I knew I should attack it. I don’t score many headers, so it was even sweeter that I was able to put it on target and score. It was an important goal, and I was overcome with emotion as you can see from the pictures. But it was short lived.”

At the other end, Ronaldo Oliveira scored with what was virtually the last kick of the game in a moment that Lyngdoh says he has yet to come to terms with. “I still can’t believe we didn’t close that game out. We had it in our hands, all we had to do was keep the ball and make the right decisions. But like I’ve learned since, sometimes it’s these defeats that teach you the lessons you need to learn for a successful career in the sport.”

The third of four sons, Damaitphang hails from Umlyngka, a tiny village in the East Khasi Hills of Meghalaya. His mother works a government job, while his father operates a taxi in the village. On days that went long, young Lyngdoh made his way to the only nine-a-side ground in his locality.

“I’ll be honest when I say that, growing up, I had never dreamt of a career in football. When I was five or six, I started going to the ground because all my friends played. People in Meghalaya love football, and you’ll rarely find someone who has never played. After a few months of going there, my mother got me my first pair of boots because I would always end up dirtying my canvas shoes that were meant for school.”

Eager to try out for the Meghalaya team, Lyngdoh and his friends made their way to trials where, much to his surprise, the then 14-year-old was handed the opportunity to represent his state. Then, when in Kerala for the Sub Junior Nationals in 2017, Lyngdoh was told that scouts from Bengaluru FC had taken his name down.

“I only started believing that football could be a career when Bengaluru FC asked me to join the club. I never thought that I would somehow reach here, and definitely not when I was as young as I was when I joined. When my coach for the Meghalaya team told me that the scouts had liked me, I was shocked and surprised at first. Then when it had settled in, I was unbelievably happy.”

Ajay Chorge, who is the Head Coach of the club’s Under-15 team where Damaitphang played for over a season, says that the midfielder’s technical ability ticked any box that couldn’t be, when he was being watched from the stands.

“Damait is only 5’1’’, but technically he is so good that it doesn’t make a difference. When he joined us, we knew we had a quality player on our hands, because he doesn’t let anything come between him and what he wants – on the field or off it. He is aggressive despite his frame, and grasps any position you ask him to play in. As a player, he is also very disciplined, respectful, and is a very good listener, which is an important aspect.”

His modest upbringing saw Damaitphang leave school to pursue a career in football, but Chorge says it was among the first things the boy was keen on changing when he joined the Blues and saw the facilities he had at his disposal.

“I am really proud to see Damait evolve both as a player and as a person since joining the club. When he came in, he had dropped out of school in the 8th standard, but as much as he was keen on hitting the gym to improve his physique, he also wanted to study and make up for the years he had missed. Our school at Jindal Vidya Mandir and the Inspire Institute of Sport, in Bellary helped him do that and even write his Board Exams. He is, to me, one of the brightest prospects in our Youth Development program and I’m wishing him the best for the future.”

While representing the club’s Under-15, Under-18 and then reserve squads, Lyngdoh was handed the number 14 shirt. It was only coincidence, but the 17-year-old says it was one he accepted with open arms, knowing there was history attached to it. Damaitphang’s home in Umlyngka is only 15 minutes from that of another Lyngdoh, a name that is more than famous in this neck of the woods.

“I’ve always looked up to Bah Eugeneson because he’s a great player and a really humble person. I’ve had the good fortune of watching him play and train a few times. I didn’t really choose the number on my shirt at BFC, but I like it and I understand why my name and that number can raise eyebrows. I need to work hard and do justice to both.”

Damaitphang’s performances for Bengaluru FC B caught Head Coach Marco Pezzaiuoli’s eyes, and the midfielder was soon asked to train with the senior team before being handed a ticket to Goa, as part of the squad for the 2021 AFC Cup campaign.

“I’ve always wanted to train and play for the BFC first team. I know that being a midfielder is tough because there are always good foreign players in that position. And the last few weeks have really taught me that there is a higher level and intensity that I need to work towards. But I know this club gives its youth a chance so for now, I’m just going to keep my head down and work hard. I want to make the most of the experience, learn as much as possible, and hopefully when I get my chance, I’ll do my best.”