Gangtok, Oct 30: The passion for the game was first portrayed in an award winning Hollywood production -The Cup- directed by Khyentse Norbu, a monk himself- but the people in red robes are really crazy for soccer.
This is evident from the large number of monks, who make it to the Palzor stadium in Gagntok, Sikkim's capital town, here to watch teams and players in action on the field vying for the 29th All India Governor's Gold Cup football tournament every day.
Even if the stands go empty in some of the matches, the tournament has a steady and loyal group of football fans in red robes that come to watch the matches in progress everyday giving their holy rituals at monasteries a miss.
Monks from different age groups are a standout feature in the stands of the stadium in the flowing red robes. A considerable number of monks had turned out yesterday to lend their vocal support to the Tibetan National Football Academy (TNFA), who entered into the last 16 by beating anotehr soccer crazy state of Manipur 1-0.
And the 'red' numbers are set to swell up tomorrow when the Tibetan side face Bhutan XI, who have a strong support base among the monks studying in different monasteries in Sikkim, also known as land of monasteries.
The Tibetan's side victory has put soccer crazy monks like Chepel in a dilemma like many other monks present in the stands. And this time the dilemma was over a decision as to whom he should cheer since his favourite teams TNFA and Bhutan XI will clash in the next match.
TNFA, a team based at Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh comprises of players from the members of the community living all over the country. While the team have played in the tournament every year for the last many years, the victory over Manipur team was the first match they have won. They have never won a single match and were eliminated in the very first matches in the past.
Speaking to media, Kharey Basnett, the chief coach of the Bhutanese national team, said the tomorrow's match was historic since it would revive the ties and special relationship between Tibet, Bhutan and Sikkim.
''We are here not to take the gold cup but to win hearts of the Sikkimese people with our game which is more important. It is always special for the team to play here,'' said the chief coach of the team who has also participated in the World Cup qualifying matches.
The organizers, Sikkim Football Association acknowledges the steady and loyal turnout of the monks and do not forget to thank the monks every year for their presence when they give the vote of thanks after the final.