Liberian center-back Varney Kallon's professional debut for I-League side North Eastern Re-Organising Cultural Association (NEROCA) FC in 2017 had worked wonders. He was instrumental in taking the north-eastern team to a second-place finish on their I-League debut and even bagged the Jarnail Singh Best Defender of the League award.
However, NEROCA FC failed to emulate their heroics in the subsequent seasons. With a sixth-place finish in the league standings in 2018-19 and a ninth-place finish the following season, NEROCA FC have indeed a lot of work to do.
This time the team management is leaving no stone unturned as they aim to be among the title contenders again. Ahead of the new I-League season, NEROCA FC skipper Varney Kallon told i-league.org that they have pushed aside their setback and are all set for a fresh start.
“It’s true that we had a tough season in Hero I-League. Some results went against us although we tried to give everything on the field. But, this is going to be a fresh start and we’ll leave no stone unturned to put Neroca where they used to be."
NEROCA FC coach Gift Raikhan is like elder brother: Varney Kallon
For NEROCA FC, Manipuri coach Gift Raikhan's presence is what brought them the biggest success. Raikhan helped the team win the I-League 2nd Division in 2016-17 and got them promoted to I-League. In the 2017-18 season, they put up a stunning display under Raikhan as they finished just three points behind eventual champions Minerva Punjab.
Even though Raikhan's second stint at NEROCA FC hasn't been as successful, he has a wonderful connection with the players. Varney Kallon called him his elder brother and even admitted that Raikhan is one of the big reasons why he has stayed back to play in India.
“Working with Gift (Raikhan) is indeed a gift for me. He is that sort of a coach who knows how to bring out the best in a player. He’s one of the prime reasons why I love to play in India. He’s nothing less than my elder brother to me. I owe him everything,” Kallon said.
Varney Kallon also expressed his admiration for the passion the NEROCA FC supporters have for their club. Their constant support has lifted the spirits of the club during tough times and Kallon couldn't have asked for a better team to play for.
“It’s like my second home away from home. That’s the reason I wanted to stay here for a longer period and take NEROCA to greater heights. I love the people and their passion for football. They chant for you, and they sing for you when you perform. They will even cry with you when the team is going through a tough phase.”
Due to the COVID-19 protocols being practiced in the country, the I-League will be played in empty stadiums this time. While Varney Kallon rued missing their chants of support, he also hoped they would be praying for the team wherever they are.
“I would miss the crowd very much. Every team envies our supporters. When we speak off the pitch, every player mentions how much pressure our supporters put on them when they come to Imphal. But, given the circumstances, it can’t be helped. This is the best alternative in this situation and I believe our supporters would pray for us right, wherever they are," signed off Varney Kallon.
The new I-League season is set to begin on January 9, 2021 with all matches to be played across different venues in Kolkata. The league was previously planned to be held in the third week of December but it was later postponed on the request of a few clubs.