Shooting Stars : The Rise Of Mizoram Football
Playing the Santosh Trophy final for the first time and winning it needs a lot of skill and determination from a young side. Mizoram showed they had both. Being a very small state from the relatively under-developed North- East India, Mizoram are now the champions of Santosh Trophy, the national football championship. It was the 68th edition of Santosh Trophy and Mizoram won it after beating Railways 3-0 in the final on 9th March, 2014 at Kanchanjungha Stadium, Siliguri.
We are obsessed with the European Football and warming up for the upcoming World Cup. But how many of us are aware of the revolution taking place in Indian football? Goalden Times tracks down the progress of a tiny North Eastern state with Soumyadip Das
The little hilly state is culturally rich and has a 92% literacy rate. But medium of education is Mizo, the local language. Very few can speak English, even fewer are familiar with Hindi. Add to that the conservative mindset of the people and it is not difficult to understand why this talent pool was not spotted before.The people of Mizoram are not very tall, but they are physically very strong and hard working and they have demonstrated it in the sport they love –Football – so much so that the country has had to stop and take note of their dominance at the national level.
In 1973, Mizoram Football Association (MFA) was built as a separate unit from the Mizoram Sports Association. Their limited resources, both human and financial, had kept them away from the national limelight. Being a tiny state and with a small population, funds allocated for growth and development of football – or for that matter any sport – has been minimal in Mizoram. Only AIFF’s pilot projects begun here before being launched on a bigger scale nationwide. The state league of Mizoram, christened Mahindra 2 Wheelers Mizoram Premier League(MPL), is a third tier tournament in Indian football. They have two football stadia — the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Mualpui and the Lammual stadium in Dawrpui Aizawl.
The real development of Mizoram football started in 2012, when FIFA decided to promote Indian football from the grassroots.. They selected Mizoram to develop a football academy the for grassroots level. Boys between six and 12 years are chosen to undergo international standard of training at the academy. The Mizoram government was very keen to help the MFA and promised to provide land and financial support to the academy. This we hope will be able to yield some fresh blood for host nation India, in time for the 2017 U-17 World Cup.
Though the Mizoram football team has qualified for the main stage of the Santosh Trophy on several occasions, they haven’t quite managed to make it to the finals.
2013 proved to be different. Not only did they make it to the finals for the first time, but also claimed the trophy. This team has a bunch of talented and hard-working players who showed a brand of fast-paced attacking football with a decent counter attack, too. It has been a remarkable journey — Mizoram won all their matches till the final — three qualifiers and five in the main phase. After qualifying for the main phase, they beat Kerala 3-1, Maharashtra 2-0, Services 4-1, Uttarakhand 2-1 and Tamil Nadu 3-1(extra-time) in the Semi-final. Before the final their coach H. Vanlalthangla said, “We would like to see our successful run end in a proper conclusion. I would hope my boys will give their best and beat a strong side like Railways. We have a balanced but young side. I hope they rise to the occasion and realise their true potential.” Mizoram has the tendency to overload players in their attack with Captain Zico Zoremsanga, Lalrinpuia Fanai and David Lalrinmuana. In the final match they beat Railways by 3-0 with goals from Zico(2) and Lalrinpuia. It was historic also because not many sides from the North-east has won the title before (Manipur last won it in 2002-03).
After the final, Mizoram Football Association (MFA) secretary Lalnghinglova Hmar said the MPL played a key role in transforming the state’s football landscape. “Our triumph in the Santosh Trophy is a direct result of the MPL, which is now in its second season. We always had the talent but most of the players could not play regularly.” The efforts of the association have yielded success with the state senior team lifting the Dr. T Aao Memorial Trophy, the U-17 winning the Junior Nationals and now the senior team’s Santosh trophy win. The road-map laid out by the association has helped rear raw talent and process them into finished products. With effective administration and passion for the game, we hope that Mizoram football will grow from strength to strength. This state has already produced some national team players like Jerry Zirsangha, Lalrindika Ralte, Sylo Malsawmtulunga, Robert Lalthlamuana who are now an integral part of Indian football. The Mizo players help each other like a family which is very rare in today’s world where people are mostly jealous of each others’ success. They pray together before and after the match. In an interview, Dempo SC’s Mizoram recruit Jeje Lalpekhlua said, “It is in our culture to help anyone who is in need. We are all friendly people.” Mizo players who play for the Kolkata clubs spend their holidays by going out together. They also play charity matches in their homeland to raise funds, and help people who are not as fortunate as them. These players love their hometowns very much. Even when Mizoram had lack of funds to participate in U-19 National tournament, Lalrindika Ralte and Jerry Zirsangha helped them personally. Sylo Malsawmtulunga(popularly known as Mama) was the first player from Mizoram to come into the limelight and has remained an inspiration for Mizo kids till date, being the most gentle among all the people from North-east. Physically they may not be very big, but they play like giants in the field. “As footballers, both Mama and Jerry are a coach’s dream,” said five-time I-league winning veteran coach Armando Colaco, who coached Zirsanga at Dempo and now coaches Mama at East Bengal. “But more than that, they are big humans. Don’t get conned by their little size. There are players and there are leaders. These guys are both,” he says. Mama said in an interview that he always gave preference to football and he gives the same lesson to his younger players. Jerry hopes that in the next five years, there will a huge number of Mizo players in the mainstream of Indian football.
Mizoram has showed that a firm determination is the only way to achieve your goals, quite literally!. This team has a few young players who, if nurtured, can prove to be assets of Indian football. Besides, a lot is being done to popularise the game from a grassroots level now to give them all a brighter future.. FIFA and AIFF are looking after the talent development programme; MPL has been telecast on various TV channels for the last few seasons and MFA are now looking to prepare more football grounds and tie-up with a few reputed European clubs. They have even offered attractive prize money for the MPL and individual awards like Best Player of Mizoram, Best Coach of Mizoram etc. Currently in the I-league, around 20 players from Mizoram are playing for different teams and we hope they make it to the premier division. Other I-league clubs can take a leaf out of their books!
Mizoram’s victory in the Santosh Trophy will surely be a shot in the arm for the game itself in the North-east. And for Mizo players, in general, this is their opportunity to build their base in the national league and aim for a larger stage.