A footballer, Tanka Lal Rai aka Reuben, always dreamt of playing in the A Division League. However, despite his relentless efforts, he was unable to fulfil this aspiration. Undeterred by this setback, Rai channelled his passion for the sport and establish Church Boys United in 2009 with the goal of playing in the A Division League.
In 2010, when the team played the knockout tournament to get into the C Division for the first time, Rai captained the team himself. But he found out how tough the road was to get into the C Division and make their way to the top.
It took Church Boys United nearly a decade to get into the C Division but when they did, the club made the most of it.
In their debut season in the C Division in 2021, Church Boys United made an impressive mark by clinching the title. The following season, they continued their fine form and won the B Division in 2022.
Many had felt the team would not be able to continue this trend, but defying the odds, the newly promoted side won the A Division League with one game to spare.
With the unwavering commitment of its players and the relentless efforts of the team management, Church Boys United achieved a remarkable feat by becoming the second team, alongside Manang Marshyangdi Club, to win all three Divisions in their first attempts. This remarkable accomplishment showcases the team’s exceptional performance and solidifies their place in Nepali football history.
“After 15 years of struggle, we have attained this dream. I can’t express this moment in words,” says Rai, president of Church Boys United.
The three musketeers
When Church Boys United became champion of the B Division they did not have a single marquee player. Not wanting to disrupt the team had done so well, they kept hold of 12 players including their star player Ashish Chaudhary. But to take on heavyweights of Nepali football, the club brought in 16 players including Anjan Bista, Ananta Tamang, Tej Tamang, Dinesh Rajbanshi, Arik Bista and Kamal Shrestha.
“I was confident about the squad. The team had the potential to win the league. So, I decided to join the team,” says club captain Ananta Tamang.
Prior to the commencement of the league, Church Boys United faced setbacks as key players Dinesh Rajbanshi and Tej Tamang departed for Australia. Bista also went to India to take part in the I Leauge. The absence of these players hindered the team during the initial matches. Simultaneously, the team faced another setback as Nepali American coach Pradip Humagain stepped down from his position due to challenges in acquiring a work permit.
Bista joined the team on Matchday 6 while on Matchday 7, the team played without a coach. Bal Gopal Maharjan joined the team on Matchday 8 and did not have the best of starts winning one, drawing two and losing two.
The team experienced a turning point on Matchday 13 when they faced Manang Marsyangdi Club. In a resounding victory, they defeated MMC 3-0, which significantly boosted their confidence.
“It gave us the belief that we could take on anyone,” said Bista.
Since then one, the team did not look back winning eight of the 13 matches to become champions of Nepal.
Maharjan feels this title was a result of hard work and feels extremely proud of having won it with Bista and Tamang who he has coached since they were teenagers.
During the post-match conference, he sat between them and proudly acknowledged the entire team for their victory, singling out specific individuals for their exceptional contributions.
The club’s President, Rai, attributes the team’s victory to strong leadership and acknowledges the significant roles played by players like Bista and Tamang in achieving success.
“The leadership quality in the field made our team successful,” says Rai, pointing to Tamang, “Furthermore, we were also very strict about discipline. We were successful in maintaining the team’s unity. Foreign players also played well, according to their capacity.”
Bista expressed his gratitude towards his teammates, team management, and coach, emphasising the strong bond they shared as a family.
“Our unity played a crucial role in securing the victory,” he says.
Winning the A Division is not only a matter of becoming a national champion but also presents clubs with an exciting opportunity to participate in an international tournament.
The league champion earns the privilege of representing Nepal in the AFC Cup, a prestigious tournament organised by the Asian Football Confederation that brings together league champions from across Asia.
But Church Boys United will not be able to take part in the count competition as they do not have an AFC licence. In Nepal, only Machhindra Football Club, Tribhuvan Army Club and Armed Police Force have the AFC licence. As Church Boys United do not have the licence, Machhindra, who finished second in the league, will play in the AFC Cup.
The players of Church Boys United express their disappointment regarding the missed opportunity to participate in the AFC Cup.
“We have lost the opportunity to introduce the Church Boys United to the international stage,” says Tamang.
Bista was informed about this during the league, which came as a surprise to him.
“We put in a lot of effort, but some other team will get to take part in the tournament that we should have been able to take part in,” he said.
However, the club’s President, Rai, remains optimistic and states that the club will work towards obtaining the AFC licence so this does not happen again.
This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.