With Lajong FC and United Sikkim in top division of Indian football and clubs like Royal Wahingdoh and Aizawl FC knocking at the doors, North Eastern India is the new hotbed for talents.

As United Sikkim Football Club, co-owned by the legendary Bhaichung Bhutia, qualified for next seasonai??i??s I League by winning the I League division 2 title last month, a new chapter was written in the history of Sikkimese football. Having topped the charts with 22 points, the Gangtok-based club ensured that the nationai??i??s top division clubs would get their first ever taste of football at the scenic Paljor Stadium next season. United Sikkimai??i??s promotion is of great significance for the state and its budding footballers. Having produced some of the finest footballers of the country, Sikkim has long suffered from the exodus of talented footballers to other regions. However, with the emergence of United Sikkim, this issue may finally be laid to rest.

Scenes from Shillong Premier League

 

Hundreds of miles away, in Shillong, thousands of Shillong Lajong supporters would be looking forward to the next season, full of hope, with fresh investment coming into the club in the form of a Dubai-based MNC, Anglian Holdings. Despite a rather forgettable season for the Indian Reds, in which they finished a lowly tenth, Lajong would be keen to do much better in 2012-13. In stark contrast, their local rivals Royal Wahingdoh FC would be left licking their own wounds after having agonizingly missed out on promotion into the I League. After dominating the early stages, the club made a suicidal gaffe in a game against eventual I League qualifiers, ONGC, playing 4 foreigners in the match, as against the stipulated 3. This proved costly, as Wahingdoh, who had won the game 4-1, were penalized 3 points, which were awarded to ONGC. They ultimately finished fourth in the final standings.

Two other Shillong-based outfits, Ar-Hima FC and Langsning FC, failed to get past the preliminary stages. Aizawl FC, who had turned professional this year, did extremely well to reach the final round. The club from Mizoramai??i??s capital city, however, came up short in the final stages. Luangmual FC, another club from Aizawl, bowed out in preliminary round.

Football in Manipur

 

Gauhati Town Club and Green Valley, the Guwahati-based clubs, couldnai??i??t reach the final round either. Thus, 8 out of the 23 clubs, that took part in this seasonai??i??s I League Division 2 tournament, were from the North-Eastern part of the country. However, controversy marred the tournament, as the management of Gauhati Town Club, one of the oldest sports institutions in the country, found its players guilty of taking bribes from unknown sources in order to lose games in the preliminary round at Cuttack. This scandal forced the club authorities into disbanding its current football team, terminating the contracts of 18 of its players. A club with the rare distinction of being state-owned, GTC wonai??i??t be taking part in any football events for the next three years. Despite this scandal, one must give credit to the rest of the clubs from the North-East regionAi??for fighting shoulder to shoulder with the other teams in the tournament.

The ai???forgotten frontierai??i?? as it is often termed as, the North East India has had its fair share of problems over the years. Factors such as insurgency and natural calamities, combined with negligence of the central government and ignorance of the countryai??i??s mainstream media towards the region, have ensured that the development of this region progresses at a very slow rate. The North-Eastern society, with due course of time, found solace in sports activities -Ai??with football, in particular, gaining popularity among the masses. As the craze for the sport grew in the region, attendance at local football games soared. Spectators would throng the stands to watch 22 men slug it out on the field. To meet this rising craze, Nurul Amin, one of the pioneers of Assamese football, initiated the ai???Independence Cup Football Tournamentai??i?? in 1949 at Nagaon, with top clubs taking part in this yearly event.

However, with football no longer being confined to villages and small towns, there arose a need to initiate such tournaments in the bigger towns and cities as well. Keeping this in mind, the Bordoloi Trophy, named after the first Chief Minister of Assam ai???Lokapriyaai??i?? Gopinath Bordoloi, commenced in Guwahati in 1952 at the historic Judges Field. In a few yearsai??i?? time, the Bordoloi Trophy became the most popular tournament of the region, with major clubs from all over the country taking part in it.

It was not merely a football tournament, but a festival of sorts. Thousands of spectators would come to cheer on their local clubs. Whenever either of the Calcuttan giants, namely East Bengal or Mohun Bagan, played a game against one of the local clubs, there would always be a special atmosphere among the crowd. Despite a change of venue in 1961, the popularity of this tournament didnai??i??t wither away. In fact, rising awareness towards football in the region meant that there would be a further rise in the crowd attendance over the next few years.

Indian Football

T Ao Trophy, Dimapur

 

The late 70s brought with it a rise in the popularity of cricket in the state of Assam (along with the rest of the country of course). Incidentally, it was around this time that the crowds started disappearing from the stands in Bordoloi Trophy games. In the newly formed states of Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland, areas largely untouched by the cricket fever, the popularity of football, however, soared. In Manipur, in particular, football fanaticism reached new heights. Despite growing unrest in the state, football blossomed in Manipur. Women didnai??i??t shy away from the football grounds either.

The 90s ushered in a golden era for womenai??i??s football in Manipur, with the ladies attaining unprecedented success at the national stage. When the India Womenai??i??s Football Championship began in 1991, Manipur were one of the powerhouses of womenai??i??s football in the country. Nobody, however, would have imagined them to dominate the tournament in the coming years the way they did. Until 2011, they went on to win 16 of these championships, missing out on only three occasions.

The men didnai??i??t lag behind either, with top division clubs vying for their signatures, and some of them making it to the national side too. Mizoram and Nagaland, on the other hand, made giant strides during this time, making light of the lack of decent facilities for footballers; while Sikkim presented India with Bhaichung Bhutia.

The regionai??i??s progress in the football field has further escalated in the third millennia, with Renedy Singh, Surkumar Singh and Bhaichung Bhutia becoming core members of the national side. The commencement of the Shillong Premier League in Meghalayaai??i??s capital city, has, over the years, gained tremendous popularity among the locals. The thousands of fans that come over to watch their clubs play, stand witness to this fact.

Shillong Lajong FC, the regional powerhouses, have raised the bar for the other clubs from the region, with their elevation into the top division of the I League. Moreover, their dream run into the final of the 2009-10 Federation Cup has further boosted their support throughout the region.

As things stand, the northeastern states continue their forward progression in the football field. Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram can boast of a strong following of their local league games. In Nagaland, meanwhile, the introduction of the Nagaland Premier League this year, has got everyone excited in the state. Initiated by the Nagaland Football Association, this ten team event is a new beginning in Nagalandai??i??s football history.

Assamese football too, has come a long way since its downfall began in the late 70s. A successful campaign in the 2007 National games, where the team won the gold, has revived hopes for the football aficionados in the state. Steps have been taken to resurrect the Bordoloi Trophy, with foreign clubs being invited to take part in the tournament in recent years.

North East

Nagaland Premier League – Breaking New Grounds

 

On 13th November, the Indian national team played its first ever game in the northeast. Playing against Malaysia in Guwahati, the blue tigers, backed by some 20000 vociferous fans, drew 1-1 against the South East Asian nation. With things calming down in the region, as the central govt. holds peace talks with various armed rebel outfits, it wouldnai??i??t be a surprise if northeastern cities become a regular venue for holding games involving the national side.

Northeastern football has come a long way since Nagaland-born Talimeren Ao first captained the country post-independence. With many northeastern players becoming important members of the blue tigers in recent years, one can only expect bigger things from the region in the future. Perhaps, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh, states suffering from below par facilities, will join in the football movement sooner than later.

Note: Pictures courtesy of www.themanipurpage.tripod.com , www.kanglaonline.com , www.dimapur.nic.in and www.nagalandpremierleague.com


Article written by THT Guest Author Bhargab Sarmah

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7 Responses to “Indian Football : The Future Lies In North Eastern India”

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  1. we also work in better football in uttarakhand
    V.S.RAWAT
    SECRETARY
    UTTARAKHAND STATE FOOTBALL REFEREE ASSOCIATION
    9319895526

    • Rahul Saxena says:

      Yes Uttarkhand has lots of talent and was once a power center of Indian football (Shyam Thapa) , but apparently some people from your state association are not serious. They sent a 2nd rate team without any practice and ended up loosing to Mizoram 6-0 and even lost to Rajasthan.

  2. wangsa says:

    Nice going through it. But thing is we also need a big international standard stadium in the NE…probably in Shillong. Why can’t intnl matches be held in these region that would garner vociferous crowd. Pls do not neglect us ..atleast in football.

  3. Tituraj says:

    Kudos Bhargab! This is an interesting piece that should be appreciated by any football fan. The interesting portrayal of the status of the game in one of the struggling regions of India will definitely help and contribute towards improving the general perception about North East India. Keep writing!

  4. bhogto says:

    The CM of Meghalaya has recently declared that an international standard stadium is going to be built in Mawdiangdiang, East Khasi Hills district. He also has promised to have more synthetic turfs in Shillong apart from the two already existing. Also synthetic turfs will be laid in every district headquarters and some at the block level. If this all happens as soon as possible it will be give a great boost to football in the state. Indian football needs players from every region of the country and without NE Indian football will be incomplete. Hope Meghalaya will win Santosh trophy in the near future (this year would also be fine) and India reach the FIFA World Cup soon.

  5. Vissionary says:

    And still we do not have dedicated branch office of IFA (Indian Football Association) in each of the NE states to:

    1.Set up playgrounds and necessary infrastructure.
    2.Identify and groom available talent
    3.Hold exhibition (national/international) matches to groom interest among prospective Maradona and Ronaldo!!