Indiaai??i??s North-eastern region has long been a hotbed of talented footballers. The role of this region in Indian football cannot be overemphasized. Responsible for producing some of the countryai??i??s finest footballers in recent times, this region has created more than just a few ripples in the game during the past few decades. Over the course of the last 10-15 years, the likes of Rennedy Singh, Bhaichung Bhutia, Gouramangi Singh and Surkumar Singh, have formed the core of the Indian national team.

Even more recently, many northeastern footballers have shot into prominence with their respective I-league clubs;Ai?? Jeje Lalpekhlua, Nirmal Chettri, Lalrindika Ralte, Lalrozama Fanai, Sanju Pradhan, to name a few. However, one shouldnai??i??t be surprised to know that even more than half a century back, the presence of northeastern footballers in the national side wasnai??i??t something out of the ordinary.

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Talimeren Ao

Captain Magnificent

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On 31st July, 1948, at the London Olympics, the Indian national football team played its first ever official international game, post-independence, against France. The team was led by a robust center-back named Talimeren Ao; 5ai??i??10 in height, he was easily one of the tallest players in the side. Playing barefoot, the Indian team displayed tremendous resilience as they shut out the powerful French side for the first half an hour.

However, French forward Rene Courbin finally gave his side the lead in the 30th minute. The Indian defence, led by the charismatic Ao, held firm for the rest of the first half. In the second half, India fought back, with Bangalore-born striker Sarangapani Raman equalizing in the 70th minute. Despite the brilliant display of the Indian defence, it eventually succumbed to the superior French attack; Bordeaux midfielder Rene Persillon winning the game for France in the 89th minute, thereby knocking India out of the event. Inspite of this defeat, India earned a lot of plaudits for its performance.

With Talimeren Ao captaining the nation in its first ever international game, football scaled new heights in northeast India. Ao played for the country in five more international games. Perhaps, the biggest disappointment in Aoai??i??s career came in 1950, when the Indian team was barred from taking part in the World Cup, as they played barefooted; thus robbing Ao the chance of leading the country in footballai??i??s premier tournament.

Talimeren Ao was born in Changki (now in Nagaland) on January 28, 1918. At the age of 19, Ao came to the fore in the All Assam Inter School Football Championship, as he was selected as the best footballer of the tournament. Also a meticulous student, Ao studied in the prestigious Cotton College of Guwahati. His biggest career move came in 1943, as he joined Calcuttan giants Mohun Bagan, who were then playing in the Calcutta Football League.

His leadership qualities didnai??i??t go unnoticed at Bagan, as he was handed the captainai??i??s armband in 1948, the same year he captained his country at the Olympics. Ao, however, will be remembered for a rather bizarre event in the 1950 Durand Cup final. When the goalkeeper of his opponentai??i??s team had to leave the field due to injury during the game, Ao switched teams and helped the Hyderabad Police squad draw the match. Hyderabad Police eventually won 1-0 in the rematch of the final. The defender remained loyal to Mohun Bagan during his playing years, and retired from the game in 1952.

Sadly, Indian football authorities have done very little in preserving the legacy of one of the pioneers of Indian football. It isnai??i??t surprising then, that very few Indians have heard of Dr. Ao. Keeping this in mind, the North Eastern Council (NEC), in association with the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER), started the ai???Dr. T. Ao Football Trophyai??i??, an eight team football tournament played between the eight north-eastern states, with the first edition of the tournament being held in Dimapur, which was inaugurated by the then Union Minister of mines and Doner, B.K. Handique.

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Talimeren Ao

The legend himself-Talimeren Ao

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This tournament is organized by each state in rotation, and has so far been able to grab the attention of football fans across the region. However, there is still a lot to be done by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and its subordinate bodies throughout the country, in order to give Dr. Ao his rightful place in Indian football history. Hopefully, the concerned authorities will take the necessary steps in the near future.

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Written by guest author Bhargab Sarmah

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  • wang

    Kash….if the present day Nagas(fukcn NSCN and others) understood the patriotism this man had for his country. Instead of fighting for some stupid reason against India, Nagas should interest themselves in others sectors including football. As myself being a Naga i love India and Indian football to core..hmm!

    BTW Dr Ao doesn’t look Naga a bit but instead some regular Bengalis.

    • jabunuo

      Mind ur language Wang….. Dr. T. Ao is a naga hero ….

  • Mojo

    The then Union Minister of North Eastern Region Shir.B.K Handique took the personal initiative of naming a football tournament in the name of the great player. No politician before him thought of this.

    Talimeren Ao is an icon of the North Eastern Region and his exploits in an age when there were no facilities – should inspire the new generation more and more. Long Live the legacy of Talimeren Ao…