Football clubs in Bhutan gearing up for Bhutan Premier League (BPL) 2020

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Bhutan Premier League (BPL), the top national football tournament in Bhutan is set to commence on August 1.

Paro FC team undergoing training for the upcoming BPL

Bhutan Premier League 2020
Bhutan Premier League (BPL), previously known as Bhutan National League (BNL), the top national football tournament in Bhutan is set to commence on August 1 after its postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This BPL is the ninth season of unified league in the country. There will be eight teams, one less than last season, competing in the BPL. For the first time in history, BPL will comprise only local players and will not be featuring any international players. Major clubs like Paro FC, Thimphu City FC and Transport United FC have traditionally boosted the teams by signing foreign players in the past BPL seasons. With an equal level playing field and opportunity to win the league this year, football lovers will be looking forward to a competitive and exciting league without the presence of foreign players.

The tournament will be held in Changlimithang Stadium, Woochu Sports Arena in Paro and Ugyen Academy ground in Punakha. As part of the pandemic precautionary measures, no spectators will be allowed during the tournament. Players will also be adhering to FIFA guidelines such as the prohibition of handshake and spitting in the pitch or meeting other team members prior to the match.

League structure in Bhutan
The Bhutan Football Federation implemented the same league structure as the 2019 season. The top division Bhutan Premier League (BPL) features ten teams across the country. The second division is Bhutan Super League (BSL), the qualifying competition for the Premier League. The lowest division is Dzongkhag League where teams play in their respective districts (Dzongkhags) to gain promotion to the Super League.

Football Clubs in Bhutan
As Bhutan league was played only in Thimphu in the early 2000s, the capital was the only district that had the football club culture then. Thus, it is no surprise that Thimphu FC has proven to be the dominant team with only two other teams winning the league so far. The first team who created the breakthrough was Ugyen Academy, BPL champion in 2013. Subsequently, Paro FC which was only founded in 2018 took the BPL by storm, finishing second in the same year and bagging the champion trophy in the BPL last year.


Paro FC, the defending champion for Bhutan Premier League

As the clubs in the nation gear up for the BPL, Daily Bhutan interviews Paro FC's Technical Director and Head Coach, Puspalal Sharma to find out more about the club and its preparation for BPL

How is the team preparing for the upcoming BPL?
It has been raining for almost a week daily but despite the rain, the team has been training very hard. They are now in their 7th week of high intensity training, all the players are building their physical strengths and staying fit. 

What are some challenges that the team face during this COVID-19 pandemic?
The biggest challenge for the club was the prohibition of team training during this time of pandemic. Due to the precautionary measures, there are a lot of restrictions on physical activities and we could not conduct team training for a long duration. Most of the time, the team is conducting their own isolated individual training. To build their strengths, they have also been doing a lot of hiking and running. I also gave them some exercise routines for them to do at home. 

How is this BPL different from the previous BPL?
Paro FC often strives to scout for good international players to complement and boost the strength of the existing squad. However, there will be no international players in this year’s BPL, it will be a fully Bhutanese squad. Thus, all the players including those in the reserve team will be absolutely important. The BPL this year is also more compact where it will conclude within 3 months, previously it will last about 5 to 6 months. 

How is the team feeling?
The team is feeling motivated because for the first time, it will be a fully local team. They know they need to work hard and shine through to earn a spot in the first level. It is a good opportunity for them to bring their best game. 

In your opinion, what are some of the key ingredients that propelled Paro FC to become the champion in last year’s BPL? 
Aside from technicality, there are a lot of factors that contribute to the success of the club including the support from management and board of directors. We also do very thorough scouting of players within and beyond Bhutan. Other than that, we did a lot of homework by studying the playing style of the opponents, so we often strategise our formation based on our opponents' weaknesses. And personally, another main reason that I feel contributed to the success was actually the defeat in the first match of the season. The defeat actually became a motivating factor in the end. Additionally, the club focuses a lot on team bonding. Specifically for this year, we have a great mix of experienced and junior players. There will be an addition of 5 new players aged 18 years old whom we got from Bhutan Football Academy to join the team. We have a very good team cohesion for this season.

What do you think makes an excellent football player?
Discipline, passion and commitment. They need to emulate some good hard working players. The support from family is also important. There are some parents who still believe that one cannot make a living out of football. This mentality and mindset has to change. The players require motivation to be successful. 

Recently in February, His Majesty the King commanded for the Druk Holdings and Investment (DHI) to provide more financial support to the national players. The salary of the national players was raised from Nu 10,000 (~USD 135) to Nu 30,000 (~USD 400) per month. In addition to that, the national players also get paid from their respective clubs. 

Can you share more about Paro FC ‘Catch Them Young’ and ‘Keep Them Moving’ initiatives?
The Catch Them Young Programme is a year long grassroot football training programme that we run weekly for youth aged 4 to 14. The youths will come to Paro FC for a 2 hours coaching session every Saturday and Sunday and during public holidays. 

There is also a programme for youths under 15 and under 17 years old where we train them 3 times a week. 

Keep Them Moving programme is a football training programme for students. It will be held one month during the summer vacation and one month during the winter vacation. Students from other districts also travel to Paro to join the programme. We often keep a lookout for talents in the programme and offer scholarships for their training.

We also provide one ball each to the trainee and we keep the coach to student ratio at 1:15 so that they are given individual attention. Most importantly, we focus on using a decision making model in training, a game based approach to teach the children instead of the usual drill-based approach.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the football scene in Bhutan?
I hope that all the clubs in the country will continue to raise the professionalism and standard of football as well as look after the welfare of the players. Hopefully, there will be more facilities in the future. In Paro FC, we are constantly focusing on facilities development as well as developing professionalism in the players. We also hope that in the future, there will be more full time players across the clubs in Bhutan. Right now, Paro FC has the most number of full time players where 23 out of the squad of 27 are full time professional players. 

Are you confident that Paro FC can defend the title this year?
Being a champion, there are huge expectations from fans and local people in the district. We also know that in a league, it is everybody’s dream to defeat the champion team. So, we need to defend hard and I think we should be able to win again. It will be a good experience with a full Bhutanese team and the team is ready.

*Paro FC’s ‘Catch Them Young’ and ‘Keep Them Moving’ Programme was conferred the Best Grassroots Club Award 2019 by Asian Football Confederation (AFC). The award was presented to Paro FC for outstanding work by a club in grassroots football development at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on November 19 2019. Paro FC is the first Bhutanese football club to receive the award.

Check out https://www.parofc.com/ for more details on the club or download Paro FC app on your mobile for the latest news. You can also do booking for the Woochu Sports Arena's soccer field and futsal court through the app!  

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History of Football in Bhutan
Aside from the national sport, archery, football is the most popular sport in Bhutan. The sport was first introduced to the country by visiting teachers from India and Europe in the mid-twentieth century. The Bhutan Football Federation noted that in the beginning there was little formal facilities or equipment and the game was played on stone covered pitches with a ball made out of a bundle of clothes. From there, football continued to grow when more Bhutanese returned from abroad bringing with them the love for the sport.

During the earlier days, the main centres for football in the 1960s were in Phuentsholing and Samtse, bordering India, where teams would travel back and forth over the border to play. In 1968, a team nominally representing Bhutan, mainly consisting of foreign players travelled to Calcutta to compete in the Indian Independence Cup. The “national team” would also regularly travel abroad to take part in international competitions such as the ANFA Cup. 

Evolution of Football in Bhutan
Over time football gradually increased in popularity and it was recognised as an essential part of the school curriculum, with numerous school tournaments established within Thimphu. 

The clubs mainly competed in continental competition such as Asian Football Confederation (AFC), AFC President’s Cup and South Asian Football Federation (SAFF). The national team played their first match only in 1982 against Nepal where Bhutan lost 3-1. Subsequently, Bhutan Football Federation was formed in 1983.

Even though television was banned in Bhutan until 1999, the royal administration granted special exemption to a number of venues to broadcast the 1998 World Cup. The broadcast was extremely well received with people walking some distance to watch the matches making it their first exposure not just to television but also to foreign football. 

In the mid-1990s, formal championships, the A-division, a competition for teams based in Thimphu was created. The championship subsequently evolved with the birth of Bhutan National League in 2012 into its current three-tiered format. Bhutan National League was rebranded as Bhutan Premier League in 2019.

The Himalayan nation only became a member of FIFA in 2000. The highest ranking achieved was in 2015 with two world cup qualifying victories against Sri Lanka. The 2018 FIFA World Cup was the country’s first attempt at qualifying in the World Cup. 

 


Bhutan hosted the FIFA World Cup Qualifier 2022, Nepal vs Kuwait match in Changlimithang Stadium on Nov 19 2019 

FIFA World Cup Trophy in Bhutan
20th December 2013 marked a historic event for Bhutan when the FIFA World Cup Trophy made its way to the Land of Thunder Dragon during its third global tour. The trophy travelled to 90 countries around the world in nine months and Bhutan was the 50th stop. The trophy was unveiled by His Royal Highness, Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck at Changlimithang Stadium. It gave football enthusiasts in Thimphu a lifetime opportunity to get an up close view of the most coveted trophy in the football arena. The magnificent Trophy can only be touched or received by the Head of State or the member from the World Cup winning team of the year. 

 
His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck with the FIFA World Cup during the host of the trophy tour in Bhutan

 

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