Bowling out the goalscorers: Mumbai City FC's Phurba Lachenpa and his cricketing tale
From the hills of Lachen, Sikkim to the electrifying Mumbai Football Arena chanting his name, Phurba Lachenpa has made quite a journey for someone who wanted to be a cricketer at a young age.
The goalkeeper, who won the Hero ISL double with Mumbai City FC in the 2020-21 season and the League Shield in the latest campaign, has made significant strides in his professional football career earning a national team call-up in the recently conducted Hero Tri-Nation tournament.
Earning his first-ever opportunity to hone the Blue Tigers' jersey, the 25-year-old expressed his feeling as surreal as he talked about the experience. “It was surreal when I first got to know that I was being called up for the camp,” Phurba told AIFF Media. “I’ve worked hard this season, and my performances in the Hero ISL have been good, but to get the first National Team call-up is always special.”
In an impressive season where he racked up seven clean sheets and 64 saves, the Sikkim-born player was instrumental in the Islanders' triumphant season. However, his role in between the sticks wasn't all planned out as the custodian aspired to be a fast bowler during his teenage years.
“Football is quite popular in Sikkim, but the (sports) culture is different in Lachen, which is to say that it is almost non-existent,” said Phurba. “I did not have much idea about prospects in football, so when I was a kid, I started training to be a fast bowler in cricket.”
A season @phurba_lachenpa will look back on proudly! 🤗🧤#HeroISL #LetsFootball #MumbaiCityFC #PhurbaLachenpa | @MumbaiCityFC pic.twitter.com/WOQUbq2Rav— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) April 8, 2023
A huge admirer of Indian cricket legend and national icon Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Lachenpa took his guard in-between the 24 yards of the cricket pitch, making the switch to football at the age of 14.
“As I started to take sports more seriously, I realised that there’s not as much scope to progress as a cricketer in Sikkim, so I switched to football, trained hard, and hoped for the best,” he recalled. “I was already growing quite tall by then, so the coaches took notice of that and asked me to play as a goalkeeper.
“I would say that my height proved to be an advantage, especially in the north-east, where people are generally not as tall,” said Lachenpa.
The young goalkeeper's performance in the Sikkim's Governor Cup caught the attention and he got the opportunity to play in Hero I-League with Shillong Lajong. From Shillong Lajong, the goalkeeper switched camps to Real Kashmir FC. Following his stint with the I-League side, Lachenpa joined Mumbai City FC in 2020, where after working his way through the ranks, he cemented his spot as the number one goalkeeper in the 2022-23 season.
“Those initial stages were not easy. My mother did not have much idea about sports and wanted me to concentrate on studies instead. But I had a lot of support from my brother, who also played himself, and my sister,” said Phurba.
“Now, of course, my mother is very happy with what I’ve done with my life so far,” he smiled.
After his impressive performances in the 2021-22 campaign, the 6'1 custodian had the fortune to play in the AFC Champions League last year.
“The Champions League was a different level of competition, but I feel that if I get a chance in the international arena, it will be even tougher,” Lachenpa concluded.