The popularity of football in India’s northeastern region is well-known. Over the years, many footballers from this part of the country have gone on to stamp their mark at different top flight clubs. The elevation of Shillong Lajong, and recently Rangdajied United, to I-League, has shown the rising importance of the region in the Indian football map. One of the states, that has greatly contributed to the growth of football in this region in recent times is Mizoram.
Situated at the bottom-most part of northeast India, Mizoram shares its international borders with neighboring countries Bangladesh and Myanmar, and its state borders with Assam, Manipur and Tripura. One of the least populous states of the country, Mizoram’s contribution to Indian football has been highly commendable. Today, Mizo footballers are a regular feature in most of the top clubs of the country. A few players, most notably Jeje Lalpekhlua and Lalrindika Ralte, have even gone on to become important members of the Indian national team in recent times, whereas Mizo clubs like Aizawl FC and Luangmual FC have made their marks in the second division of the I-League.
Covered with countless hills and rivers, Mizoram is a land of immense natural beauty. With literacy and sanitation rates of over 90%, as per the 2011 census report, Mizoram has officially, the second highest urbanization rate in India. One of the fastest growing states in the country, Mizoram’s progress in recent times has been quite incredible. From parts of Aizawl being tragically ripped apart by the Government of India’s relentless airstrikes on the city in 1966, during the height of the MNF armed uprising, Mizoram has indeed come a long way. The demand for the formation of a sovereign state had led to an armed movement in this part of the country during the late 50s. It wasn’t until 1986, when Mizoram was granted statehood, that hostilities between the-then Mizo rebel group, Mizo National Front, and the Government of India, finally came to an end. In the last couple of decades, the state of Mizoram has been able to make significant progress in many areas. One of the positive developments in the state during this time has been the growth of the beautiful game.
Football has always enjoyed its fair share of popularity in Mizoram. In recent times though, the absence of an established league structure in the state until last year, had somewhat held the game back. It is the young footballers who have had to suffer the most, with many talented kids being forced to move away to play in other parts of the country, while still at a developing stage. With rising exodus of talented players from the state, the need of a new premier football division was felt. The idea of the Mizoram Premier League (MPL) was first developed by the Mizoram Football Association (MFA). The state’s football governing body roped in ZONET Cable TV Pvt. Ltd as its commercial partner last year, to assist in its new venture, after a lucrative deal worth Rs. 1.25 crores was signed between the two parties. With Mahindra 2 wheelers sponsoring the event, the Mizoram Premier League turned out to be a big hit among the fans in its first season. Dinthar FC, who showcased some brilliant football throughout the season, went on to lift the title on the last day of the season, beating local rivals RS Annexe 3-1.
While the football played in the tournament was of top quality, the response MPL received from the local fans in its first season was equally brilliant. P Lalmawizuala, administrator at Mizo sports website inkhel.com, says the craze for MPL did not remain confined to the larger towns and cities. “MPL 1 received a very good response even from the smaller towns and villages of the state. The attendances at all the games were decent, and would have been much higher had these not been scheduled in the afternoon. Zonet Cable did a good job providing live feeds of the games, which really helped in popularizing the league throughout the state,” he reveals. Lalmawizuala believes this new league has been a new beginning for football in the state. “It’s good to see young players of the state showcase their talents in the local league. The hard work put in by the local officials has been quite encouraging too,” he adds. Talking about the large number of young talented footballers in the state, he says “We are thankful to institutions like the Sarba Shiksha Abhiyan Football Academy for sowing the seeds of the newest line of talents from the state. Over the years, these institutions have been putting in a lot of hard work, developing young footballers. Moreover, players like Shylo Malsawmtluanga have influenced many youngsters to take up the sport in recent years.”
The second edition of the Mizoram Premier League is set to commence within the next couple of months, with even bigger things being planned for the new season. The Government of Mizoram has commissioned the installation of floodlights at the scenic Lammual Stadium in Aizawl, which will play host to the league games. Most of the clubs have been busy preparing for the new season, with Aizawl FC looking the strongest contenders to challenge defending champions Dinthar FC for the title. With a large bunch of young talented footballers in the different clubs’ ranks, the MPL is set to offer these young boys a platform to make their early marks in Indian football. When it comes to the clubs though, there is still a long way to go for them. The current scenario, however, provides a lot of encouragement to the fans in the state. Lalmawizuala, an avid follower of Dinthar FC, opines, “We are still a few years behind in terms of having an I-League club, but I’m quite sure that with better infrastructure, in the coming years, one of our clubs will make it to the top flight.”