Reliving the title run of Mumbai’s only national champions – Mahindra United 2005-06 season

The National Football League was initiated back in 1996. It continued until 2007 after which the I-League was started. The tournament was thoroughly dominated by the Kolkata giants – Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. Both the Calcutta outfits won the league thrice each. However, the latter stages of the NFL saw the rise of Dempo. The Goan outfit won the 2004-05 and 2006-07 editions, but the campaign of 2005-06 saw a resolute Mahindra United run away with the league title.

Mahindra United, one of the oldest teams from Mumbai were the only team from the City of Dreams to win the National League back in the 2005-06 season and qualified for the AFC Cup. Mahindra United was given entry to play in the AFC Cup 2007 and was placed in Group E. They moved to the quarter-finals (knock out stage), by the best runners-up team in their group and were denied entry to semi-finals by one goal away match difference at Lebanon.

Speaking of the glorious season, former Indian international footballer and Jamshedpur FC Assistant Coach Steven Dias shared his memories. “I spent 7 years at Mahindra United. Without a doubt, I can claim that Mahindra United was one of the most well managed and professional teams of that time. During my tenure, I got to learn a lot from David Booth. He instilled the character in me which helped me to better myself and upgrade my career” claimed Steven, who is better known as the “David Beckham of India” for his multiple expertise which resembled the English legend.

The year 2003 saw Mahindra United appoint David Booth from the UK. He was a coach who had a five-year stint with Ghana, and over three years with Brunei and Myanmar National Team. When Booth took charge of Mahindra United, the team won the Mumbai League, Super Cup, and the Federation Cup.

The victory in the Federation Cup of 2003 gave the club an entry in the AFC Cup 2004 when Mahindra United was listed in the World Club rankings. The team finished third in the National Football League and Mahindra United created history by winning their First International tournament, The President’s Cup of Maldives (POMIS CUP).

“Since Mr Booth came into the team, he changed the entire set-up. The local players in the team became the regular players called up for the National Team. The team set-up by Mr Booth was barely changed during our National Football League season win.” quipped Dias.

However, in the year 2005 Indian International and Professional Licensed Coach Derrick Pereira took over the helm at Mahindra United, who straight away took the team to become the Federation Cup Champions. Mahindra United qualified for the AFC Cup 2006 and was in Group A with teams from Bahrain, Lebanon and Bangladesh. Under his tutelage, Mahindra did the wonder. They became the first club from Mumbai to win the National League in 2005-06 season.

Hekmat Singh, a sturdy striker for Mahindra United back in the time lauded Derreck Pereira’s guidance to their victory. “The best part about Mahindra United was the players were always respected and the spirit was always high. Under Coach Dereck Periera the team as a unit became very strong. He always motivated the players with his pep talk. During every match, he always had a unique strategy and was able to anticipate the opponent’s weak points. As a coach, he was very patient and tackled every situation wisely. It was a pleasure to play and learn under him” quoted Singh.

Steven Dias too lauded Mr Dereck Pereira’s contribution during the winning campaign. “I think he is one of the best coaches in Indian football. He is well ahead of time than many of the existing coaches. I recall how he used to do video analysis during that time. Just like how we do it now at the ISL or I-League. His techniques and understanding of the game gave us the edge and his magnificent man-management skill did the wonder. He made us play and stay together as a unit, a loving family, and I believe it bore the fruits for us that year.”

After winning the title, Mahindra United continued to win accolades until they disbanded their side in 2010. The reasons for the same were unknown to the players, but one thing both Steven and Hekmat believed was that it did a huge blow to Mumbai football as well as Indian football.

“Mumbai was known in football because of Mahindra & Mahindra, which later changed their name to Mahindra United. Being from Mumbai, all my childhood I used to dream to play for Mahindra and Mahindra. Mahindra helped Mumbai to produce players. A lot of us represented Mahindra, then got to play for the national team, and got jobs. Mahindra United will always hold a special place in our hearts because it was the only team back in the time which was capable to give a platform to the local players and bring in robust foreigners. We simply can’t summon in words what Mahindra United meant to us. I just hope that soon, the management revamps the team.” reminisced Hekmat.

“Mahindra was the only team back in the time to have their ground. The facilities they provided to their players were at par with the international standards and professionalism was at its peak. No club during that time provided with the facilities to their players which Mahindra gave us. Players were educated about their diet and the importance of lifestyle. Mahindra was capable of building up an ecosystem within the team which helped the players, management, medical and coaching staff to give their best efforts” quoted Steven Dias.

Mahindra United Football Club (abbreviated as MUFC) initiated in 1962 was a professional football club which plied their trade in the top leagues of India. Their home ground was the Cooperage Football Ground in Mumbai. Mahindra United won the National Football League in 2006, Durand Cup (1998, 2002, 2008), Federation Cup (2003, 2005), IFA Shield (2006, 2008), President of Maldives Invitational Soccer Cup (2003), Super Cup (2003), Mumbai Elite Division (1971, 1982, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1995, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005), Nadkarni Cup (2000, 2001, 2002), Bandodkar Gold Cup (1980), Rovers Cup (1993), Chief Minister’s Cup (1998), Mammen Mappillai Cup (1999).

 


Also Read: Legend PK Banerjee dies aged 83

For Trial related updates: Latest trials updates in Mumbai Football


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