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Indian Women's League (IWL)

“Worried about family, not opponents” – Manipur’s Eastern Sporting Union enters IWL semis amidst statewide conflict

“We want to go back home as champions. Hopefully, our victory will bring a sense of happiness to the state after the violence,” said captain Prameshwori Devi.

“Worried about family, not opponents” – Manipur’s Eastern Sporting Union enters IWL semis amidst statewide conflict

Eastern Sporting Union players in training (Source: AIFF)


Abhijit Nair

Published: 16 May 2023 9:16 AM GMT

Ahmedabad: The inaugural Indian Women’s League (IWL) champions are back in the league and they have announced their arrival in a spectacular fashion.

Having finished fourth in Group B, Eastern Sporting Union brought down last season’s fourth-placed team Sports Odisha 4-2 on penalties in the 2022-23 IWL quarterfinals at the Shahibaug Police Stadium here on Tuesday morning.

The entire Eastern Sporting Union contingent competing in IWL, including their coach and support staff, hail from Manipur – the northeastern state which is currently engulfed in a widespread ethnic conflict.

On 3rd May 2023 when the conflict broke out in the state following a five-day internet suspension which started on 28th April, Eastern Sporting Union were in the middle of their third group stage match against Odisha FC at the TransStadia Arena.

Even as they tasted the first defeat of their campaign that day with a 0-4 loss, the focus soon shifted to whatever was transpiring in their home.

“When the conflict broke out in Manipur, naturally we were mentally disturbed. The anticipation that something bad would happen to our family…it was not easy,” said Eastern Sporting Union coach Lourembam Ronibala Chanu to The Bridge after the match.

“The homes of a few of our players are in the interior part of the state in the hills and quite close by to the affected area. They were very tense since their families had to evacuate. All I could do was tell them ‘kuch nahi hoga (Nothing will happen)’ to keep them motivated,” the coach added in a somber tone.

As much as they tried, it was difficult to stay focused. This meant that Eastern Sporting Union lost their next match as well as they went down 0-3 to Sethu FC, before getting their derailing campaign back on track with three consecutive victories.

“The conflict has not died down completely yet. The players are still worried and are still coming out playing through it. Fortunately, we have been able to get in touch with their families over call…so that has helped me a great deal in keeping them focused,” said Chanu.

“My players, at the moment, are not worried about who they are playing. They are worried about the safety of their family. That is where their mind is. It has been hard to manage, but of late they have understood that they need to put it behind for now,” Chanu, whose family is thankfully far from the conflict zone, added further.

Third semifinal in as many appearances

What makes Eastern Sporting Union’s semifinal run even more impressive is the fact that they assembled together as a team just a couple of days before the tournament started.

A majority of their players were competing in the Senior Nationals and could only join the team at the eleventh hour in Ahmedabad.

“Around 10-12 of our players were playing in senior nationals. Hence, we could not have a proper camp before the league began. We just had a couple of training sessions here, but the coaches were very clear about the formation they wanted and made it clear to the team very quickly,” said Eastern Sporting Union captain Irom Prameshwori Devi.

A former India international, Prameshwori Devi scored the winning penalty to take her team to the 2022-23 IWL semifinals.

“We were very confident when the penalties started. Our goalkeeper (Elangbam Panthoi Chanu) has done exceedingly well in this tournament. So we were never worried,” said Devi.

This is Eastern Sporting Union’s third IWL semifinal entry, in as many appearances in the league.

After winning the inaugural edition in 2016-17, they finished runners-up in the next edition. They were since on a long hiatus before displaying a resurgence this season.

Prameshwori Devi was also a part of that inaugural IWL winning team. “Back then, almost all our players were Indian internationals. They were all from Eastern Sporting Union before they wore India jerseys. That was a really good season,” reminisced Devi.

This time around the team has two new players, who joined them from other clubs. The 34-year-old Devi, however, hopes to replicate the 2016-17 season, with just two matches to go.

“The aim is obviously to go back home as champions. Hopefully, our victory will bring a sense of happiness to the state after the violence,” Prameshwori Devi signed off.

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