Ever since Churchill Brothers won their second I-League title in the 2012-13 season, they have been expelled twice on two different accords - for failing to fulfil the AIFF's (All India Football Federation) club licensing criteria in 2014 and relegation after the 2017-18 season.
However, the Red Machines were accommodated back into the I-League on both occasions by none other than the AIFF, especially after federation’s decision to allow Aizawl FC to ply their trade in the league in 2016 despite the Mizo side having been relegated in the previous season.
As such, the AIFF gave a second thought over the exclusion of Churchill Brothers, more so following the exit of Salgaocar FC, Sporting Clube de Goa and Dempo Sports Club from the league two seasons ago. Churchill were then handed their second lifeline to continue in the ongoing I-League season even after the club was relegated. The club had even registered a case against the AIFF.
Even before their plea was to be accepted, Churchill remained confident and made use of their lessons from the previous season by making strong early acquisitions than relying on late reinforcements to save the season. And the management has done well to put out a competitive squad this time around.
Khalid Aucho and Nenad Novakovic were roped in while the likes of Willis Plaza, Dawda Ceesay and Hussein Eldor were retained. Richard Costa returned from East Bengal as the club managed to retain the core before handing over the team to Romanian coach Petre Gigiu.
Churchill Brothers are on an unbeaten run of five games which is much better than their last campaign where they were without a point for their first five matches and winless until the seventh game. The team is looking for their third consecutive win when they take on Gokulam Kerala on Friday.
The Varca-based outfit got off to a marginally better start this season as compared to the previous one where they had faced five back-to-back defeats before picking their first point at home. Their first victory had come in their seventh game which was followed by five more wins in the next six games but they had to wait till this season for another I-League win.
The team has won just the two games in their last 11 I-League games.
Gigui's side have been on fire in their last two games where they have scored seven goals. After a 4-2 win over Shillong Lajong, courtesy a Plaza hat-trick, the Goans claimed the prize scalp of Mohun Bagan with a 3-0 win in Kolkata where Plaza notched two. Skipper Dawda Ceesay has also been among the goals.
What that signifies, again, is that the club have always had an influential bunch of foreigners whenever they have done well. When Churchill Brothers won their last I-League title, it was all about Henry Antchouet, Beto and Akram Moghrabi making the headlines. Not to forget Odafa Okolie's rampage in the 2008-09 title-winning season and Yusif Yakubu in the early 2000s, who both made it big at Churchill before moving to other clubs in India.
This time it's about Ceesay and Plaza, the latter signed ahead of the inaugural Indian Super Cup. Having said that, it neither takes away credit nor eliminates the responsibility of the Indian players from the squad. Retaining players such as Wayne Vaz, Israil Gurung, as well as goalkeeper James Kithan has been of significance to the club's chances this season.
The onus is back on Churchill Brothers to prove of their worthiness after being allowed to feature in the I-League one more time.