Friday 14th June 2024
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British Tamil football team wins English league

Mahajana College, more than a century old institution from Tellippalai, Sri Lanka, is synonymous with producing high-caliber well-rounded students who have ventured globally to establish successful careers and build strong cultural networks wherever they landed.

As with many other Tamils who decided to settle in the green pastures of the UK, there was a desire to have some continuation of the social and cultural relationships via meet-ups, programs, charity fundraisers and sports competitions.

In 1996, Mahajana College Old Students Association (MC OSA) football team was formed to play with other Tamil expat teams who had originated from similar historic establishments. It didn’t take long for the sporting events’ popularity to grow as the fiery competitive Tamil spirit meant more teams and supporters turning up for a great day out with added delights of Tamil music and food from local businesses.

The events evolved into weekly league matches and summer tournaments for all age groups and so the founding members set up a structure and environment for the new generation of young Tamils to thrive in sports whilst also learning about discipline, teamwork, work ethic and humility.  The MC OSA set up football clubs for youngsters ranging from the under 10s through to under 16s with parents part-timing as coaches, spending their evenings and weekends training and instilling the values that their school had taught them as children. With a solid foundation of fitness, the boys were taught to be brave, bold, courageous as an individual and as a team. It was a style of play that lead to their youthful teams having unprecedented success in Tamil tournaments and the leagues for multiple successive seasons.

A time came however for the team to test themselves and their possession-based brand of football in a non-Tamil league and in 2013 under the name of MC United, they entered the Kingston and District Football League. The league had been established in 1893 and had seen generations of local amateur footballers play in its leagues allowing a pathway to step up through the English football pyramid.

The team reinforced its ranks with a recruitment drive and trials open to all, but with a core of Mahajana trained athletes, they had a team ready to take on the challenges that Saturday afternoon football had in store. It wasn’t a common sight in non-league football, for mostly diminutive Tamil heritage players to pit themselves against the seasoned physical giants that each team had in their arsenal and on occasion, the team had to encounter unwanted non-football reactions from other team players and fans that weren’t used to the sight. However, the traditions and playing style never wavered and teams were blown away by the speed, skill and tenacity the team showed week in week out. It meant successive promotions through the leagues to the premier division. It took one season to adapt to the quality but in 2018, the club became the first (and to date, the only) Tamil origin club to win a premier division in a Saturday league, etching their name on a Trophy steeped with tradition, permanently.

The club continued to play in the local leagues such as Surrey South Eastern Combination Division which plays at a higher standard, finishing mid-table in Division 1 before entering the North Surrey and Middlesex Border Premier League in 2023. The team competed well against much younger opposition and managed to finish 3rd whilst once again playing a brand of football widely considered as the best in the league. However, the real achievement came as they played the final of the League Cup which was played at the Cobham FC ground on the 31st May.

Despite flying out of the blocks from the first whistle and creating a string of chances, the opposition Epsom Albion went 1-0 up after 20 minutes and held on until the final minutes of the game. This day had something special about it for Mahajana from the start, and as the family, friends and the founders of the club who had put so much of their years pushing this club forward screamed on in the stands to lift the players,  the old Mahajana “never say die” attitude was rewarded when they equalised in the 92nd minute taking the game to then be won 4-2 on penalties.  Once again, achieving the accolade as the first Tamil team to ever win a top division Cup competition in an English district league.

Team sports can do many positive things but for Mahajana College it was notably the overwhelming feeling of pride it gave its founders, supporters and players as they tried to represent a school from Jaffna and Tamils in UK football. There are many Tamil origin players and teams now that have ventured into their local district leagues showcasing their ability and unique Tamil courage inspiring all future generations. There is belief that future generations will break through into the highest levels of professional football just like Vimal Yoganathan has proved it can be done.

By Ahilan Anpananthar