Mizoram: Football stars
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The sources of this series of articles on Football in Mizoram include
Vai, New Delhi compiled this article. However, the authors of the article are
Abhishek Ganguly, Marcus Mergulhao, Saumyajit Basu, Siddharth Saxena
Mama and his silent revolution
Siddharth Saxena | TNN
In November 2005, a team from Mizoram lit up a sleepy Santosh Trophy qualifying cluster in Thiruvananthapuram with bold, attacking football. The Mizo men seemed to possess that special ability to turn it on at will and let the style simply flow. For many unaccustomed to witnessing such robust display by a team which did not belong to the country’s footballing elite, made for riveting viewing as a lethargic Bengal among others twisted and turned in their wake.
Ever-running and standing no more than five-feet-five in his socks, the team’s coach, leader and guide was Shylo Malsawmatulanga —‘Mama’ to the world of Indian football. He was just 21, already an East Bengal mainstay and easily the best left winger in Indian football then. Jerry Zirsanga, Vanlalrova, Robert Lalthlamuana, Malsawma and PC Lalhmingliana all looked up to the gentle word of Mama, and ran like he did.
While Bengal played their traditional prima donna role at the tournament, it was a unique charm offensive from Mama’s men. The team from the Christian-majority state would stand in prayer after each game — win, lose or draw. Then they would walk over to the rival penalty area and shake hands with each of their opponents. Eventually, edged out from the main round in Kochi on a countback, Mizoram’s players departed for their clubs and later as the Santosh Trophy rapidly lost out in importance, the team — and the idea — seemingly fell off the map.
But the Mizoram experience in Kerala was not a mirage. Almost a decade later, they are national football champions and the man who kick-started it all continues to quietly ply his trade in his typically busy, hunched-over-the-ball manner. In a journey that began in 1998 with the Subroto Cup with Electric Veng Middle School via the Tata Football Academy, he’s back to East Bengal after stints with Salgaocar, Mohun Bagan and Prayag United.
“In 2005, we had half the team from the Mizoram Armed Police, some from the Assam Regimental Centre and the youngsters from TFA,” Mama told TOI over the phone from Kolkata. “We played our first practice match together only after landing in Kerala.
“The extent of preparation this time is an indication of how much progress Mizoram has made in terms of organisation and infrastructure. Vanlalthlanga, the head coach this time, was my childhood coach, so in a sense I have a link with this victory. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. Since Sunday, I’ve been feeling like I have won the World Cup,” he chuckled.
Mama was being his usual modest self. No Indian footballer, not even IM Vijayan for Kerala, has single-handedly played the catalyst for the sport in his state as Mama has. It must be noted that when Mama’s team was capturing the imagination in 2005, Sikkim was losing 10-0 to eventual winners Goa, and the state’s icon Bhaichung Bhutia was involved in a publicly televised spat with his former mentor and then national coach, Syed Nayeemuddin. “With Bhaichung in Sikkim, a lot could have been done,” said an Indian football old-timer.
“Mama was never the best footballer to come out of Mizoram,” said Lalnghinglova Hmar, the 36-year-old honorary secretary of the Mizoram Football Association, “But he was the first, and that’s the most important thing.
“As footballers, both Mama and Jerry are a coach’s dream,” said 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.
Before Mama made his silent revolution, hockey was Mizoram’s predominant sport. His brother Remruta was a state-level hockey player. There still isn’t a Sports Authority of India scheme with focus on football, yet Mizoram is all about football today, so much so that a football-mad government school teacher in Khuamgleng, a tiny Mizoram village bordering Myanmar, named his son after a rooster. Today, there’s a Zico in Brazil, and there’s a Zico — Zoremsanga — who is the toast of Indian football.
Football helped Mama leave his remote village Vanlaiphai and their fields and come to Kolkata’s maidan. He paved the path for the rest. Today, it’s raining Mizo footballers in India. Most I-League clubs and their junior sides have at least one Mizo player in their ranks; half of India’s age-group teams comprise Mizo footballers. Indian football’s technical director, Dutchman Robert Baan, is sold on their style and technical ability. Jeje Lalpekhlua, adjudged India’s best Young Footballer in 2013, is Sunil Chhetri’s striking partner in the senior side.
Hanging almost as an afterthought on India’s farthest north east, Mizoram is arguably the gentlest of the states in the region. Like the rest of the seven sisters, the idea of its football is providing identity but it contrasts with the volatile escape that it provides Manipur, Nagaland or even Assam. For the Mizo, it is the passport to livelihood in a state fraught with poverty.
“I realised very early that I had nothing to fall back on but my football. It was never easy. At TFA, it was so lonely, I’d weep secretly but knew there was no going back,” says Mama, “This is what I always tell the younger players from my state: ‘Always, the football should come first. The rest will follow’.”
LALAWMPUIA: A STAR WHO FADED
Whenever there is talk of Mizoram football, after Shylo Malsawmtluanga, the name Pachuau Lalawmpuia always crops up. While the former embodies all that is dignified about Mizoram, Lalawmpuia’s is a classic case where precocious talent can got wasted due to indiscipline.
When he burst onto the scene for Mohun Bagan player in 2008, the burly Lalawmpuia immediately caught the eye and was touted as the next
Baichung Bhutia. Sadly, despite sporadic burst of brilliance, he started grabbing headlines for off-field reasons. United SC signed him up then and took all measures to keep him focussed only on the game. However, things didn’t turn for the better and Lalawmpuia, who had put on a lot of weight, became injury prone and became a fringe player in the team. He shifted to Mumbai FC where he stayed for two seasons but was never able to cement his place in the starting XI.
It was learnt from sources that Lalawmpuia, after a short stint with South United FC in Bangalore, is back in his village in Mizoram and has not played for quite a few months. The striker is reportedly recovering from an injury. However, even after his recuperation, it will be tough for him to get a club of prominence.
It is sad that in this golden hour for Mizoram, Lalawmpuia has almost disappeared into the oblivion. TNN
Top Mizoram footballers in India’s I-League
As well as The New Stars Who Caught The Eye At The 2014 Santosh Trophy In Siliguri
A key contributor to Mizoram’s success in Santosh Trophy. A live-wire in the midfield, this former Mohun Bagan academy player is nimble-footed and can link up with the strikers well. He has played in the I-League for one season, as an ONGC player. He’s currently playing for Aizawl FC, but looks to be on the threshold of making a return to ILeague soon.
In 2014 plays for Dempo FC. A regular in the senior national team, this 23-year-old from Hnahthial in Mizoram bagged the AIFF Emerging Player of the Year in 2013.
Only 17, this Pune FC midfielder is already being considered as one of the future stars. Fanai became the youngest ever player to represent Pune FC in the I-League when he made his debut against Air India in 2012-13 season. Fanai also played for Maharashtra in the Santosh Trophy and led the team to semifinals in 2013. A free-kick specialist, Fanai was adjudged as the Best U-19 Player in 2012-13 season.
Born in Aizawl in 1990, like Mama he’s a product of Jamshedpur Tata Football Academy. Graduated in 2008. Having had a season with Mohun Bagan, this midfielder is currently playing for Lajong FC
A precocious talent, this 22-year-old East Bengal midfielder is a Cristiano Ronaldo fan. Known for his powerful long-rangers, Ralte, or Dika as he is affectionately called, has already made the senior national team under Dutch coach Wim Koevermans.
One of the young Indian talents who never fulfilled his potential. This former TFA graduate grabbed headlines for his off-field antics and indiscipline during his stints at Mohun Bagan and United SC from 2008 to 2010. Now out of top competition in India, he joined Bangalore’s South United FC to play in the 2nd Division I-League and still remains the story of a talent wasted due to indiscipline.
This left-back has been a vital cog in Mizoram’s attacking display. He is good with his interceptions as well as aerial clearances. He is quick on the overlaps and cuts in sharply to add teeth to the team’s attacks. He can be a high utility player for any team.
The East Bengal left-back made India debut under Armando Colaco three years ago. Following an impressive season with Churchill Brothers in 2010-11 season, he joined East Bengal.
By becoming the East Bengal fans’ favourite since joining in 2002, he must be credited for putting Mizoram on the Indian football map. Considered as the godfather of other Mizo players who are currently playing in I-League. Having played for Salagocar, Mohun Bagan and United SC later on, the 30-year-old has returned to East Bengal this season.
The captain of Mizoram and one of the most prominent strikers in Santosh Trophy 2014. He scored five goals in the final phase, including a brace in the summit clash. He is not very tall but has all the attributes of a marksman. He’s already on Mohun Bagan’s radar and a few other ILeague clubs are learnt to have shown interest in him as well. Zico played in Kolkata previously for Southern Samity.
Mizoram: Football Mizoram: Football stars
There are several other articles about Mizoram in Indpaedia.com, including
Chapchar Kut Edward Lalrempuia Mami Varte Miss Mizoram Mizo religion, culture, beliefs, songs, oral literature Mizoram Mizoram 1870-1926: Christianity and literacy Mizoram: A brief chronology (1946-1997) Mizoram: cinema Mizoram: From ancient times to 1946