Sikkim to name football stadium after Bhaichung Bhutia
The ex-captain will be the first Indian footballer to have a stadium bearing his name.
In what will be the perfect tribute to the face of Indian football and arguably the name most synonymous with the beautiful game in the country, Bhaichung Bhutia will soon have a stadium named after him.
The ‘Bhaichung Bhutia Football Stadium’ is located in the district of Namchi, a 25-km drive away from Bhutia’s birthplace of Tinkitam in the north-eastern state of Sikkim.
Famous cricketers in India like Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag have stands or gates named after them but this is a first in Indian football.
“I'm honoured and excited. I'm happy because budding footballers will get another top-class facility and infrastructure to play football,” Bhaichung Bhutia told the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
“This stadium has produced many footballers and I have so many memories of playing there.”
The artificial turf at the venue has been laid and the stands, which can accommodate 15,000 spectators, have been set-up.
The second phase of construction will witness the stadium putting up floodlights before a grand reveal, which is planned once the COVID-19 crisis subsides.
In addition, Bhaichung Bhutia also revealed that he planned to set up a football club in the vicinity of the stadium to integrate more youngsters into the sport.
“We have already spoken with the State Government about setting up a Football Academy. It will be a joint venture between the government and United Sikkim, the biggest semi-professional football club in this region,” said Bhutia.
“It'll provide a platform for the youths to play football. We look forward to hosting Golden Baby Leagues too.”
There could be no better candidate than the legendary former Indian captain, who scored 42 goals in 107 appearances for the Indian football team, to receive this honour.
Bhutia has played for fierce Kolkata rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan and is much-loved by both sets of fans.
He was also a pioneer, opening the doors to Europe when he signed for English club Bury FC in 1999, making him the first Indian footballer to play in England.
“Even after hanging his boots, Bhaichung Bhutia has been a role model to many and he will continue to inspire young footballers of India,” Sikkim Football Association President, Menla Ethenpa said.
“We can't repay him for what he has done for Indian football. But a stadium named after him might be a small homage towards the great footballer.”