The picturesque town of Lachen along the India-China border in Sikkim is a quiet place, with the locals nonchalantly going about their daily business. Perhaps there’s not much to see there from a sports enthusiast’s perspective, one would think at first glance.
However, from this quiet town along the valleys of Sikkim, the name of which literally translates to “big pass”, comes a big man, with big dreams of guarding the Blue Tigers’ goal.
Goalkeeper Phurba Lachenpa Tempa has been called up to the National Camp for the first time, and the 6’1″ gentle giant is absolutely buzzing at the opportunity.
“It was surreal, when I first got to know that I was being called up for the camp,” Phurba told the-aiff.com. “I’ve worked hard this season, and my performances in the ISL have been good, but to get the first National Team call-up is always special.”
The 25-year-old’s journey thus far, has been one that’s seen him push forward through the Indian Football league tiers. However he had actually started out aspiring to be a cricketer.
“Football is quite popular in Sikkim, but the (sports) culture is different in Lachen, which is to say that it is almost non-existent,” said Phurba. “I did not have much idea about prospects in football, so when I was a kid, I started training to be a fast bowler in cricket.”
A big fan of former Indian Cricket Team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, young Phurba went on to go in the opposite direction as the famous wicketkeeper, switching to football at the age of 14.
“As I started to take sports more seriously, I realised that there’s not as much scope to progress as a cricketer in Sikkim, so I switched to football, trained hard, and hoped for the best,” he recalled. “I was already growing quite tall by then, so the coaches took notice of that and asked me to play as a goalkeeper.
“I would say that my height proved to be an advantage, especially in the north-east, where people are generally not as tall,” said Lachenpa.
It was in Sikkim’s Governor’s Gold Cup, where the young keeper’s performances first came under notice and he got his first opportunity to play in the I-League with Shillong Lajong.
“Those initial stages were not easy. My mother did not have much idea about sports, and wanted me to concentrate on studies instead. But I had a lot of support from my brother, who also played himself, and my sister,” said Phurba.
“Now, of course, my mother is very happy with what I’ve done with my life so far,” he smiled.
Since then, the custodian had gone on to play for Real Kashmir in the I-League, and subsequently for Mumbai City FC in the ISL, where he has also had the fortune of playing the AFC Champions League last year.
“The AFC Champions League was a different level of competition, but I feel that if I get a chance in the international arena, it will be even tougher,” said Phurba.
The Blue Tigers are, at the moment, training in Kolkata, in preparation for the Tri-Nation International Football Tournament, where they are set to face Myanmar (March 22) and the Kyrgyz Republic (March 28). The 25-year-old feels that competitive international matches like these in the FIFA Windows are essential, especially for newbies like him.
“I think it would be difficult for me to get game time in big tournaments. We have Gurpreet and Amrinder bhai, both very experienced goalkeepers,” said Phurba. ” But these are the matches where new players like me could hope to get their chance and prove themselves. For me, if I do get the opportunity, I hope I’ll be able to show that I am capable of being at this level for a long time.”
India’s matches against Myanmar and the Kyrgyz Republic will be broadcast and streamed live on Star Sports 3 and Disney+ Hotstar.