Namdharis are well-known for their deep religious beliefs, extraordinary contribution to the freedom movement, and their untiring efforts for the promotion of education.
They are no strangers to sports, either. The Namdhari XI hockey team, established in 1977, were once a crack outfit and excelled in many top tournaments across the country. The Namdhari Sports Academy has a history of producing some top-grade players, not only in hockey but in badminton as well.
Now they have turned their attention to football and have judiciously built up a team, that can challenge the best in the country. Named the Namdhari Football Club, with their home ground at Namdhari Stadium in Sri Bhaini Sahib in Punjab, the team will have their first acid test at the national level in the 13-team I-League 2023-24, where they will participate for the first time.
Namdhari Football Club have the dream of going to the top but have decided to make a cautious start. As Sri Satguru Uday Singh Ji, the spiritual leader of the Namdhari community, said, the ultimate aim is to promote local talents and raise a team that will help the national cause.
“This season, we are playing in the I-League for the first time. We have some local players and have recruited a few players from across the country. But in the near future, we will put more stress on developing local players that will help Indian Football. It is a great sport, played all over the world. Religion instils discipline in a person and helps to make him a better human being. The game of football is also like that,” he said.
To compete in the I-League, Namdhari Football Club have recruited some well-known players like defender Akashdeep Singh, centre-back Sukhandeep Singh and winger Harmanpreet Singh, who had earlier played for Real Kashmir FC, Sudeva FC and Bengaluru FC etc. The team is currently coached by former JCT and Mahindra United star Harpreet Singh. Spanish coach Francesc Bonet, who had earlier coached two other I-League teams, Rajasthan United and Gokulam Kerala, would soon join as the head coach in the next few days.
“We have also recruited three foreign players,” said Harpreet, who felt Namdhari Football Club would prove to be a highly competitive side in this season’s I-League. The three players are striker Olmes Garcia from Colombia, midfielder Stephen Acquah from Ghana, and attacking midfielder Imanol Arana from Spain. The inclusion of these three players will make Namdhari Football Club a balanced side, according to Harpreet.
The aim is not to raise an all-conquering side in the very first season, but to make the initial impact and slowly but steadily take a firm grip over the situation. The team is currently undergoing training in full swing on their home turf and also playing in the ongoing Punjab Super League.
“The Punjab Super League is a 15-team championship and we are currently at the top of the league table. So far, we have played 11 matches, won 10, and lost one. Hopefully, we will emerge champions of the league,” said coach Harpreet Singh.
The secretary of the club, Sher Singh, is hopeful that the Namdhari Stadium will soon emerge as one of the best venues in the I-League. “Our pitch is very good and the dressing rooms have been praised by anyone who has had the chance to look at them. I am sure all visiting clubs will like the arrangements and atmosphere during their away matches here,” he said.
“It is only the beginning. We have bigger plans down the line,” said Sri Satguru Uday Singh Ji. “We have a plan to expand in the future. We have identified some European countries, including Spain, where we may set up our academies or tie up with local clubs. We want to take Indian Football to the top of the world,” he said.
Namdhari Football Club will play their first match in the I-League against Churchill Brothers on October 31 in Sri Bhaini Sahib.