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Are We Doing Injustice To Aizawl FC By Comparing Them To Leicester City?

Thursday, 4 May 2017|SM

When Zohmingliana Ralte headed in the winner against the mighty Mohun Bagan, the red mist lifted the thick fog that had been covering the Rajiv Gandhi stadium. As the stadium erupted in joy, and with the players at an arm’s length away from their passionate faithful, there was something in the atmosphere that made it feel special.

Only 12 months back Aizawl FC, were struggling and preparing for a life in the Indian second division, without a manager, and with the look of a person who couldn’t recognize their own reflection. This was right around the time when 8000 odd kilometers away Leicester City pulled off the greatest modern story in football, the stuff of dreams, with a squad which almost got relegated to the second division a year ago.

Since the first signs of Aizawl’s miracle, the underlying story was ‘could the side from Mizoram do a Leicester?’. Of course, in India, you’re more likely to see a 17-year-old freckled, fresh-faced boy in the 7th cross of the 3rd street in Andheri (Mumbai) wear a Manchester United shirt rather than his local football team’s who play every week in front of a largely empty stadium.

 So, it is not really anyone’s fault that Leicester’s name is being dragged into the story just to tell you the rags to riches story of the small club from the North East of India. The problem with that is, despite the shares, and the column in the most famous daily in your city, Aizawl’s story is never really told.

Mizoram’s football has been at the forefront of their struggle to gain relevance in the eyes of the ‘rest of India’, and not just remain ‘one of the North East states’. A city where football is as intertwined in its culture as dance and music, a city where women are as passionate about football as men, a title puts them on the proverbial map. It is so much more than a David vs Goliath story.

In a country where football is a game watched on TV (rather than played on grass), an afterthought to cricket, the Mizos are as passionate and loyal as they come. 

Comparing that to Mizoram, the playoffs of the Mizoram Premier League gets telecasted all over the state in High Definition. In a report on the Times of India in 2014, Siddharth Saxena said, “Mizoram didn't realise just how good they were until they saw themselves on television.”

Genetically short in stature, but very skillful and determined, their ability has shone through among the likes of Jeje Lalpekhlua, Lalramchullova, Zotea, Zohmingliana Ralte and Brandon Vanlalremdika in the last couple of years. Years under of the shadows of their neighbours Manipur, the first step in the sunlight was in the Santosh Trophy in the 2013-14 season and they haven’t looked back since.

The League might have been won in the last four months, but the foundations were built in the past decade or so. Around 4 months back, when Khalid Jamil started his work as the head coach of Aizawl FC, he just laid news bricks on those foundations.

The perfect foreign players, the group of player who already understood his philosophy grouped with the talent in the squad he had already inherited. He made them hard to beat, but also good to watch, he intertwined his philosophy with his team’s and wrote what will be the greatest story ever written in Indian football history.

Aizawl FC’s trophy means much more to the state of Mizoram than just a trophy. It means, they’re vindicated, and now they have a common voice, a common voice to the rest of India who were perhaps forced to open the political map of India and find its location.

The story, however, doesn’t end there, there are strong rumours that Aizawl FC might not be able to defend their League title next year and be relegated to the second division (a story for another time perhaps. Hence their fight to stay relevant will go on.

The red mist has lifted the fog, the sun shone through, but a cloud cover in a far off mountain threatens to dampen the mood. But, for now, let’s enjoy the warmth.