Bhutan: For­merly the worst football team in the world

Bhutan Times - - Home - By Can­dida Bev­eridge, BBC World Ser­vice, Bhutan

At the start of 2015, Bhutan were of­fi­cially ranked the worst football team in the world. But in the spring the small Hi­malayan moun­tain na­tion shocked the world when it won a World Cup qual­i­fy­ing match against Sri Lanka. Now they have high hopes.

Changlim­ithang football sta­dium is more like a palace than a sports ground. It was built in 1974 for the coro­na­tion of Bhutan’s fourth king and the pitch is built on a fa­mous bat­tle ground.

The sta­dium was full for the fi­nal match to see who would win Bhutan’s tiny football league, which con­sists of six teams.

Among the spec­ta­tors who saw Ter­ton FC beat Druk Pol two-nil was Ugen Tshechup, pres­i­dent of Bhutan’s football fed­er­a­tion, and one of the men re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing football to Bhutan. He was part of a gen­er­a­tion of well-to-do Bhutanese who were sent away to board­ing school in In­dia, where he de­vel­oped a pas­sion for the sport.

“Ever since I was small I used to play for the school team and af­ter that when I was at univer­sity I used to play for my col­lege team and when I came back I got in­volved,” says Tshechup. “Prior to democ­racy we al­ways had min­is­ters who would take up the post of the pres­i­dent of the football fed­er­a­tion but af­ter democ­racy I got en­cour­aged, stood for elec­tions, and I won.”

What char­ac­terises football in Bhutan is the te­na­cious at­ti­tude of the play­ers. It’s some­thing he first no­ticed among his Bhutanese friends when he was at school in In­dia.

“We never gave up - we could be down 2-0, 3-0, 4-0, but we kept run­ning and chas­ing, and this is what I’ve asked my team to do.”

Un­for­tu­nately for Tshechup, his na­tional squad were ear­lier this year named the worst football team in the world - but this didn’t faze him. Up un­til very re­cently he didn’t have am­bi­tions for his team to play in­ter- na­tional games. There sim­ply wasn’t any money to send the na­tional team abroad. The lit­tle money he had was spent build­ing football pitches and fund­ing a youth pro­gramme. It was only when Fifa of­fered to fund their en­try into the World Cup that he de­cided to take a chance. And to his sur­prise Bhutan won its very first qual­i­fy­ing match. It lit­er­ally knocked him off his feet.

“I was sit­ting up in the pav­il­ion and I jumped, not re­al­is­ing how high up I was,” he says. “Some­times it brings the child out in you. When you see your team score a goal it does send chills down your spine, and at that very mo­ment you sud­denly feel, ‘What if?’ But then af­ter 10, 15 min­utes re­al­ity sinks in and says, ‘OK, the hard road to the next leg is go­ing to start.’”

Tshechup’s very re­al­is­tic about Bhutan’s chances and he says he’s not go­ing to fo­cus all his at­ten­tion on the na­tional team. There’s still so much to do to at home if football is to be a suc­cess­ful sport in Bhutan.

“Win­ning inspires peo­ple. Win­ning cre­ates he­roes and stars and en­cour­ages you to play - but at the same time when they go out and find that they can’t get a football, they don’t have a proper ground to play on, the proper coaches are not there to teach them the proper tech­niques, then it would not ful­fil the obli­ga­tions and the vi­sion we have for football in Bhutan.”

Good coaches are ex­pen­sive, and the Bhutan football fed­er­a­tion can­not af­ford one - but coaches have been com­ing to Bhutan through the as­sis­tance of Ja­pan’s football fed­er­a­tion. “Some­times we have had very good ones, some­times not so good ones, but this time we feel that the coach is very ex­pe­ri­enced, he un­der­stands how the peo­ple here think, so hope­fully he will be able to de­liver suc­cess,” says Tshechup.

Up in the top row of the sta­dium Coach Tsuk­i­tate No­rio is watch­ing the league game. Three of the play­ers on the pitch are in the na­tional team which he is re­spon­si­ble for - and he’s not look­ing im­pressed.

“Not enough tac­tics, not enough tech­nique, look - no run­ning! That’s why I’m shout­ing in the train­ing: ‘Why are you walk­ing?’”

But he has no time to talk to the squad af­ter the league match. “I’m tired, I have to rest - I want to drink beer,” he jokes.

The next day coach Tsuk­i­tate is in a more se­ri­ous frame of mind. It’s back to busi­ness and the play­ers are work­ing hard. They are all am­a­teur foot­ballers - many are stu­dents or re­cently grad­u­ated and work­ing.

The team cap­tain, Kar- ma Tshedup, is an air­line pi­lot for Bhutan’s na­tional air­line, Druk air.

“Peo­ple al­ways ask me how I get time to train but I al­ways ask for Mon­days and Fri­days off so I can train with the na­tional team,” says Tshedup. “We don’t have a very pro­fes­sional men­tal­ity, but due to the win against Sri Lanka there are a lot of peo­ple com­ing to watch and sup­port football so in that way what we are try­ing to do is to make football a pro­fes­sion in Bhutan as well.”

As a child, Tshedup dreamt of be­ing a foot­baller - fail­ing that, he wanted to be a pi­lot. “In a way I’m ful­fill­ing both my dreams,” he says.

Ev­ery­body hopes the team will win more matches in a qual­i­fy­ing group that also con­tains Qatar, China, the Mal­dives and Hong Kong. But they are re­al­is­tic, and with rea­son - in their next two games they lost 7:0 away to Hong Kong and 6:0 at home to China.

“Even though Hong Kong is ranked lower than us, it’s still a bet­ter team,” said Tshedup be­fore the game. He warned that his play­ers had their work cut out and the coach should be on his met­tle.

“He has to at least show us that the team is bet­ter than Sri Lanka, that he’s in­tro­duced some of his tech­niques and hope­fully it will trans­late into our boys play­ing well.”

Mean­while, Tshedup has given the team a pep-talk of his own. “You’re go­ing in as an un­der­dog, prob­a­bly you’ll have a lot of goals scored against you - don’t give up. Keep your heart out on the pitch - if you do that, we’re go­ing to be very proud of you and for us you’ll come back he­roes.”

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