Shillong Lajong FC is the biggest football club in the North East of India and is certainly progressing in leaps and bounds. With a firm ambition and a concrete structure, this club is rapidly transforming itself as the fountain of Indian football, at least in the northeast.
And guiding the Shillong Lajong FC ship is a certain Herring Shangpliang. The man from Meghalaya who has an AFC Professional Licence in coaching has been with the club for about six years and has been a huge influence in the rapid development that the club has undergone.
Herring cuts a very dedicated figure, someone who can feel the club and who is very much eager to scale new heights with it. After joining the club six years ago, Herring has led Lajong FC by the hand to several trophy triumphs, many of them in Guwahati.
Herring has also led Shillong Lajong FC to two successive north eastern league titles, a feat which firmly consolidates the club’s kingly position in the region.
And perhaps more crucially, he has done so with players from the local pool of talent, which most other coaches would have failed to do. Lajong FC have a policy of featuring players raised from the local territory and Herring has certainly explored his local resources and shaped them accordingly, thereby exhibiting his coaching finesse and adaptability.
As a player, Herring never featured for any club but represented his state Meghalaya in competitions like the Santosh trophy. A knee injury put flight to his playing career at a premature stage and it was then that Herring decided to take up coaching.
“I wanted to remain connected with football in one way or the other. After the injury, I decided to take up coaching as I wanted to remain with football.”
And so he has, in more ways than one. Besides coaching Lajong, Herring is also involved with the U-17 and U-20 Indian national sides and although it is not easy to take care of two jobs at the same time, the marvelously gifted Herring manages just that with huge success.
But what made this AFC Professional Licensed coach take over Lajong FC? In Herring’s own words, ”Mr. P.D. Sawyan (president) has great passion for the game. The club had great plans for the future.”
Tempted by a long term plan, Herring Shangpliang took up the task of coaching a talented but somewhat inexperienced team and has performed miraculously well so far. In spite of all the doubts and uncertainly surrounding this emerging club, Herring has reached deep into his hat and brought out the rabbit out of it almost in the twinkling of an eye.
In six hugely crucial years, Herring has transformed Shillong Lajong FC from ‘just another club’ to the biggest in the football crazy North East. So much so that he is gearing up to launch a bid for a berth in national divisions and given the success that he has achieved so far in his tenure at the club, it is almost guaranteed that it is a matter of time before Herring leads his Lajong side to the higher strata of Indian football.
In 2006, Herring led Lajong to the brink of qualification for the national league division two, narrowly losing the spot after a defeat to Salgaocar. Yet guiding the club so close to national attention must certainly be a huge achievement for Herring but, as he insists, he wants to take the club to a higher level.
”At Lajong, we want to bring all the players of the North East together. We are focusing on taking in players only from the north eastern (region).
“Our goal is to qualify for the I-League.”
Huge ambition indeed, but ambition very well within the grasp of the club and of Mr. Herring Shangpliang. And the key to fulfilling this lofty ambition is the local talent available in abundance and Herring underpins the importance of tapping into this unexplored rich talent in the Indian north east.
“There is a lot of talent in the North East as well at Shillong Lajong. At the club we have players from Mizoram and other states of the north east.”
And speaking on local talent, he enthuses how during a selection for the U-15 Shillong Lajong squad, thousands of young buoyant hopefuls came for the screening. These kids, Herring remarks, came from all over the state, which certainly demonstrates how popular football is among the kids in the region.
One of the most significant aspects of Shillong Lajong FC is the familial atmosphere at the club. It is more like an institution and at the core of the club’s success is this harmony. Coach Herring is a father figure here, as he has to take care of the players both on and the pitch as off it.
But as Herring enthuses, “We are like a hostel here. We all stay here at the club and put up together. We have all the 25 U-15 players staying together in the same hostel. We are like a family here.”
And Herring Shangpliang is the acting head of the family, a towering father figure in the Shillong Lajong camp whose selflessness is a marvel to behold. Shillong Lajong FC is doing its best to pull the hidden footballing talent in the north east out of the gloom and in Herring Shangpliang, they have the best person to nurture that talent and polish the raw diamonds.