Mizoram Football: The Story That Needs To Be Told

Tuesday, 24 May 2016|John Zothansanga
Mizoram players, before 2002 never dreamt of playing professionally.

Imagine a tiny state in England with less than one million population having a football club, whose budget is less than the annual salary of Juan Mata, but still manage to reach the FA Cup finals and eventually lose to Manchester United - but, the tiny state is still left with something to boast about, the man of the match is their home grown player.

Struggling to picture it? Fair enough....

But, this is what really happened in India when Aizawl FC, the club from Mizoram lost the Federation Cup final against the country’s oldest club Mohun Bagan. The Mizoram born striker Jeje Lalpekhlua scored a brace for the Kolkata giants - becoming the top goal scorer in any single edition of Federation Cup.

Many Indian football fans would also probably have laughed if you suggested a few years ago that Mizoram will produce most of the Indian players in the country top tier league - you can’t blame them. Because, Mizoram in that time was nowhere near to what it is today.

In 2002, the Northeastern states had only one Mizo professional footballer in S. Malsawmtluanga who plied his trade in the country top tier league for East Bengal. Fourteen years later, the Federation Cup final at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in Guwahati had seen a substantial increase in the number of Mizo professional players vying for the Federation Cup title, which lent further credence to Mizoram’s status as the Home of Indian football - which is indeed a good night for a football crazy state Mizoram.


Where it all began…

Mizoram players, before 2002 never dreamt of playing professionally nor anyone knew what was to be done to become one. Parents then never allowed their kids to take up football instead of education. You can’t blame them considering the football situation in the state during those periods.

The state football league was played in mud field or clay - the highest dream of the footballer is only to represent the State in the National tournament and to wear the colours of the government run departmental football club. But, things were all changed when the Mizoram footballing godfather S. Malsawmtluanga (Mama) signed for East Bengal thus becoming the first footballer from the state to play professionally.

Newspapers and magazines in Mizoram pages were full of Mama interviews and poster, life of a professional footballer and the challenges he had to face. Thus Mama sparked a revolution in Mizoram football and paved the way for professionalism.

"Mama’s inspiration was that, every Mizo youngster were interested in Indian football more than European football. Mizo kids those days knew more about Mama than any other professional footballer in the world" says Lal Zarzova, Sports Columnist of the Mizo leading newspaper Vanglaini.


In his footsteps

The success story of Mama doesn’t simply end there. Gathering inspiration from the pacy winger lots of Mizo kids took up sports more seriously and started their footballing journey in the footsteps of their godfather. From a talented trio of Jerry Zirsanga, Vanlalrova & Malsawma to PC Lalawmpuia, Robert Lalthlamuana, Mizoram started producing talented footballers every year - though a talented ’Indian Rooney’ PC Lalawmpuia couldn’t make it through like Mama, only because he failed to handle the fame and fortune he was suddenly bestowed with.

But, Mizoram, today now becomes the state with the most Indian I League players contributing around 20% of Indian players in the league - which is higher than any state in the country, something they can be proud of.

With a well planned state league, effective development programmes at the grassroots level and improvement of infrastructure, Mizoram has now become the finest footballer producing factory in the country, producing the likes of Jeje Lalpekhlua, Lalrindika Ralte, Lalchhuanmawia Fanai, Daniel Lalhlimpuia, David Lalrinmuana to name a few.



The arrival of MPL

Lalnghinglova Hmar, honorary secretary of the Mizoram Football Association was all praise for the Mizoram Premier League during a discussion about the success story of Mizoram football.

Despite the state being home to a football-loving populace, lack of infrastructure, proper league system, no grassroots education were the major concern that set Mizoram football a little on back-foot. But, after the introduction of Mizoram Premier League in 2012 with the state association five-year 1.25 crore deals with ZONET Cable TV Pvt. Ltd. (one of the most lucrative sports deals in the North East of India) the growth of Mizoram football is clearly visible.

"When it comes to talent, it is not a problem for us. The only problem before MPL was that we did’t have a well structured league where our players could have displayed their skills, improve and eye beyond the state, "says Lalnghinglova Hmar, the man who is credited for a football revolution in Mizoram.

Road to Glory

In its Annual General Body Meeting on 20 August, the Mizoram Football Association secretary Lalnghinglova Homer much to the delight of the audience said, "The MFA now needs a bigger office than the one which we are planning now. With the growth of Mizoram football we need more staff, which demand more space, and also, if we look at our trophy cabinet, we can see we need more space for another trophy ." Yes the Mizoram trophy cabinet ,which is already blessed with The Santosh Trophy, Dr. T A trophy and the National Games Championship trophy, needs to get bigger.