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Return of the kings?

Football: One of the most dominating forces in Bhutanese football, Transport United, is all set to play the Thimphu League this season. After an invincible season last year, the club was promoted to the A-division this year.

Arguably one of the most successful clubs in Bhutan, Transport United ruled football in early 2000s and won four consecutive national league titles from 2004 to 2008, the highest league titles achieved by a single team.

Formed in the year 2000 by a group of football enthusiasts, the club got affiliated with the Bhutan Football Federation (BFF) in 2001 and got registered in the A-division.

Following its affiliation with BFF, the team’s debut appearance in the national league was in the same year. However, the team couldn’t perform in the first two years but managed to remain the A-division.

It was in 2004 when the team won its first national league title at the Changlimithang Stadium. The success story of Transport United continued for the following four years until they were relegated into the B-division in 2009.

The reign 

Popular names like Passang Tshering, Pema, Ngawang Dhendup, Puspalal Sharma, Kinley Dorji and Ugyen Wangchuk who are still regarded for their contributions towards the development of football in the country were Transport’s key players back then.

The skipper of the team, Passang Tshering during a game against RIHS FC scored 17 goals and also made the fastest hat trick in the game. The record still remains unbroken today.

After winning the 2004 national league title, Transport United took part in the AFC President’s Cup in 2005 becoming the first club from the country to be recognised internationally.

The team registered two international wins against Pakistan in 2006 and 2007. Wangay Dorji scored the lone goal against Pakistan in the dying minutes of the match on May 12, 2006 at the Sarawak Stadium in Malaysia.

The downfall  

Starting in 2009, Transport United began slipping. One of the main reasons behind the downfall according to the general secretary of the club, Yeshey Samdrup, was because of the financial crisis the club faced.

“We couldn’t retain our players because of lack of funding,” he said. “The grant we received during those times were not sufficient to run the club with good players. We lost several good players because of the financial problem.”

Transport United were relegated in 2009 and the team struggled in the B-division for seven years. Without good players and qualified coaches only the name remained and the team’s glory days almost came to an end until last year when the club managed to get back in the A-division.

The comeback        

Donning the blue-white jersey, the homecoming matches for some of the veterans like Passang Tshering, Ngawang Dhendup and Kinley Dorji were no less than a feast for the eyes of most football enthusiasts during the B-division league last year.

The team with a renewed spirit from its young talents combined with the experience of its veterans overcame all challenges and emerged as the league winners, undefeated.

“We managed to get some of our former players back last season and it was revamped with young talents from the federation’s academy,” said Yeshey Samdrup.

The future 

Under the former star player of the team, head coach Ngawang Dhendup, Transport United is all set to play the big names in the game during the Thimphu league next month.

The new version of the team is composed of mostly players from the under-19 national squad. Popular players like Hari Gurung, Sampa Tshering, Choki Wangchuk and Thinley Dorji have also signed up with the team.

“We’ve a good number of youth players trained by the football federation and the likes of senior national players like Hari will definitely make a difference for us,” said Yeshey Samdrup. “This time we’re more prepared to take on any team and we see ourselves in the top four of the league at the end of the season.”

Transport United has hired a 28-player squad at a cost of Nu 900,000 for the season. On an average, each player receives Nu 30,000 for the season. Yeshey Samdrup said that the club is still struggling to become financially stable with the signing of several new talents on the team.

“Running a club is not easy but the assistance provided by BFF and the president has been very helpful in getting back the team together,” he said. “We are back also because of the commitment our members have put in the club starting from our chairman to the players.”

Meanwhile, the Thimphu League is scheduled to begin from February 4 and will conclude on July 8.

Younten Tshedup 

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