The I-League 2019-20 season witnessed the first-ever Imphal Derby being played between NEROCA FC and league debutants TRAU FC. It was the new outfit that recorded a 2-1 win in the first encounter but NEROCA came roaring back in the second one, registering a 5-0 win in front of a roaring Khuman Lampak Stadium as Pritam Singh Ningthoujam grabbed a hattrick – the only one by an Indian player this season.
In a chat with I-League Media, the 27-year-old termed the hattrick as his career’s “most memorable moment” so far. He said, “I have scored a few hattricks in my career but this is certainly the most memorable one, since this was the first one in a Manipur derby. I never thought I would score a hattrick in such a big game and I am glad I could help the team record a memorable win.”
He spoke about the rivalry between the two teams and how the heavy win against the arch-rivals helped his team gain the bragging rights.
“It is an intense rivalry as both teams – NEROCA and TRAU are two big sides in Manipur. It is exactly like the rivalry between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal in Kolkata. The emotions are the same. We were glad to win by a good margin of 5-0, which made the fans happy and gave them an opportunity to boast,” he smiled.
Pritam talked about the mood in the team prior to the reverse leg, with his side having lost the first derby match.
“It was a question of pride for us. We were talking among the team and saying that we have to win at all costs. As a result, each player gave his 120 per cent in the game and we kept our focus,” he said.
He added jokingly, “Had we lost, we would not have been able to show our faces in public.”
The match began with a goalless first half but in the second, Philip Adjah and Imran Khan scored in the 50th and 58th minutes respectively to put NEROCA in the driver’s seat. Pritam scored the game’s next three goals (60′,66′,90+1′) to complete the rout.
“We couldn’t score in the first half but struck early in the second. Then, it was a matter of finding our rhythm and we were able to score continuously and put a lot of pressure on the opponents. It was a do-or-die game for us and I am glad I made a mark in the game,” he recounted.
The forward also spoke about his routine in the ongoing lockdown and urged fans to take care of one another in these troubling times.
“I try and practice as much as possible at home and workout on a daily basis. It’s important for us to remain at home and remain safe. All of us must keep ourselves fit and take care of the people around us. We must be considerate towards each other and remain united in the battle,” he declared.