How Mizoram became one of India's best performing football states

On 9 March 2014, the Mizoram state football team created history when it beat Railways in the final of the Santosh Trophy in Siliguri, West Bengal. In the process, it became the second northeastern state after Manipur to lift the coveted title.After producing some of the country's finest footballers in the last decade, the Santosh Trophy victory lent further credence to Mizoram's status as one of the best footballing states in the country. More success has followed for the state since that triumph. Aizawl FC lifted the 2nd Division League title earlier this year to become the first club from Mizoram to qualify for the I-League.

The state's progress in the last decade has been phenomenal. The fact that almost every I-League club has players from Mizoram in their squads, is a glowing endorsement of the state's progress in the game in recent years
Things, however, were quite different at the turn of the century. Despite the state being home to a football-loving populace, Mizoram languished in footballing ignominy for a long period of time. It all changed when a diminutive winger named Shylo Malsawmtluanga signed for East Bengal in 2002.

The impact of Shylo Malsawmtluanga on local football

Shylo Malsawmtluanga. Photo: Twitter (@Amul_Coop)
At first glance, Mama, as Malsawmtluanga is fondly called, hardly looks like the footballing father-figure that Mizoram knows him as. He is short, shy and barely speaks a word. On the field, however, he is a fierce competitor. When Mama moved to East Bengal in 2002, thereby becoming the first player from Mizoram to play for a top-flight club, he sparked a mini-revolution in Mizo football.

Within the next three years, he went on to win the national league title twice with the Red-and-Golds, as well as the 2003 ASEAN Cup, while managing to keep a regular place in the first team. The pacy winger's success at the national level became a source of inspiration for many.
"Since graduating from the Tata Football Academy in 2001, Mama has enjoyed tremendous success at the national level. In his initial years, almost every Mizo who had a TV at home, would tune in to watch Mama play. That was the impact he had. He inspired a generation of youngsters to take up the sport," says Puia, author at online Mizo football portal ZoFooty.

Mama has enjoyed success at different I-League clubs over the years. The new generation of footballers from Mizoram call him as 'the Godfather'. Lalrindika Ralte, one of the state's most prominent players in recent years, once admitted that such is Mama's influence over the younger players of the state, that the latter approach him even in matters relating to finance.

Grassroots football

Mizoram grassroots football. Photo:
While Mama's success helped a great deal in furthering football's case in Mizoram, the state's focus on grassroots football in recent years has also played a major role in its elevation in the domestic football scene. Mizoram was the first Indian state to undertake the grassroots program initiated by the AIFF, and in 2013, the Mizoram Football Association (MFA) was awarded the Best Member Association award by AIFF for running the best grassroots program in the country.
All India Football Federation (AIFF) General Secretary Kushal Das summed it up best following Mizoram's Santosh Trophy win in 2014: "Mizoram Football Association is a great example of how a state association should be run. Very often, state FAs complain of lack of funds. The same applies to Mizoram FA as well, but they have proved time and again that it has never come as an obstacle for the growth of the sport in the state."

MFA Secretary Lalnghinglova Hmar, however, feels there is still scope for improvement. "Our programs at the grassroots level have borne satisfactory results, but I still feel that things could have been handled better. We are still figuring out the best way of running a grassroots course, in terms of selecting the best players and trainers, and ensuring that the operations take place in a more professional manner," he says.
Most of the footballers to come out of the state in recent years haven't had access to proper football education in their initial playing years, says Hmar. This is why the state has specifically started targeting kids from the age of six through their grassroots program.
Hmar also lauds the efforts of the state government in improving the quality of football, which has also been an immense help at the grassroots level. "There are four artificial turf grounds in Mizoram; another two grounds are under construction - all being constructed by the state government," he highlights.

Mizoram Premier League

Mizoram Premier League. File photo
"We have never had any shortage here, in terms of talent, but until a few years back, local football was not structured. Players could barely remain fit throughout the season as the competitive level was poor," says Lalnghinglova Hmar . That changed in 2012, when MFA introduced the Mizoram Premier League (MPL). The new state league kickstarted what Hmar terms as a 'football revolution' in Mizoram.
In less than four seasons, MPL has gone on to become one of the finest provincial leagues in the country, in terms of quality, competitiveness and media coverage. Zonet Cable TV, a local television network, signed up as the commercial partners of the MFA, and has played a crucial role in the league's growth in recent years. The company bears the operational costs of the MPL, relieving the state governing body of a major financial burden.
"MPL has helped revive football in the state, both on and off the pitch. The back pages of local dailies, which had long been obsessed with European football, are now filled with reports on the local league. With Zonet telecasting all the games of the league, the league has received unprecedented coverage over the years," he explains.

"The league has featured prominently in the local media. Online media portals like ZoFooty and Inkhel, in particular, have been quite active in the coverage of the league. The extensive media coverage of the league shows that it has been a marketing success," says ZoFooty's Puia.
MPL also owes much of its success to the young football followers of the state. "Most of the fans you usually see at the Lammual Ground (where MPL games are held) are youngsters. On online football forums, where you would see football fans discuss European football a few years ago, today there are young fans debating over the local game," Puia remarks.

The road ahead

Mizoram Premier League. Photo: ZoFooty
Mizo football, however, has a few problems of its own today. The biggest challenge, at present, is to sustain the growth of MPL, says Lalnghinglova Hmar. The MFA Secretary says clubs will have to improvise in order to tackle the issue of rising expenditures.
"Mizoram is a state where there are no multi-national companies, no big industries: in short, no proper sponsors. Financially, it's difficult for clubs to sustain themselves. The MFA is trying its best to educate clubs on cutting down on expenses in order to survive in the long run," he says.

A man who minces no words, Hmar expresses his displeasure with the current situation in Indian football, which has seen the I-League being cut short to a 18-week long event. He says Mizo football clubs with national aspirations will face a major problem if ISL, or a league system with ISL franchises at the core, becomes India's national league.
"No club in Mizoram has the potential to bid for an ISL franchise or be a part of it, mainly because of the financial constraints they operate under. It will create a huge problem for our clubs who want to be in the top flight," he opines. Hmar goes on to add that he is in favour of the I-League being reformed, instead of the ISL being turned into a full-fledged league.
However, he remains optimistic about Mizoram's future in the sport. "We are second to none in terms of talent. With more funding and better infrastructure, the future looks good for football in Mizoram," he concludes.
READ MORE - How Mizoram became one of India's best performing football states

Manipur school beats Karnataka side 27-0 in Subroto Cup

It rained goals at the 56th Subroto Cup football tournament today as a Manipur school mauled their opponents from Karnataka 27-0 while a Nagaland side pumped in 13 goals without reply against a team from Gujarat in the junior (Under-17) girls matches here.

Chanambam Thambou Higher Secondary School from Manipur swallowed up Phoenix Residential Pubic School from Karnataka, neat and clean, with a 27-0 verdict, while Sports School, Dimapur (Nagaland) went on a 13-0 goal-hunt against Gujarat's PR Joshi Vidyalay Sariyad (Patan) at the New Wellington Camp ground.

The Imphal West school girls, led by A Raja Devi, who scored a dozen goals, never allowed the ball go beyond the opponents' goal. Assistance for the Manipur's highest goal-getter came in the form of teammate Kashminia, who found the target eight times. Then there were Ranjita Devi, Yumnam Laxmi Devi, Ph Sanathopti Devi ad E Debala Devi who contributed to swell to their kitty.

As for the Dimapur school, Neichutuo scored five times and Akhala four with contributions from Nengneivah (2), H Mara and Vizouuo.

At the Ambedkar stadium, striker Prity Jamatia scored a hat-trick as Tripura Sports School drubbed Afghanistan national team 3-0.

The Tripura girls had a plan and one could see the springs on their steps from the moment they entered the ground. Initially, they they found it tough to break through the Afghan defence.

But, the goal by Prity in the 23rd minute gave a spark and her teammates made good forays.

On changing sides, the first 20 minutes saw nothing tangible happening from either side. Again, it was Prity who got a pass from the centre and sidestepped a bunch of Afghan defenders to slot in her second goal in the 51st minute.

Another defence lapse in the 60th minute allowed Prity to complete her hat-trick.

Earlier, a 19th minute goal by Poojitha was good enough to help the Telangana State Sports School, Secunderabad, earn full points against Assam's Dakhim Mazbat High School in the first match at the Ambedkar Stadium.
READ MORE - Manipur school beats Karnataka side 27-0 in Subroto Cup

Football runs in every Northeasterners' blood: Dynamos’ Zodingliana

Zodingliana Tochhawng (Ralte) (Facebook)

After playing for the North-East United in the inaugural session of the Indian Super League (ISL), Mizoram-born Zodingliana Tochhawng (Ralte) is now excited to wear the Delhi Dynamos’ jersey in the next edition and says, “Football runs in every Northeasterners' blood.”

“Cricket may be the country’s favourite sport. But in Northeast, it is the game of football that tops everyone’s list. Football runs in Northeasterners' blood. In Mizoram, if you see, it’s doing so well.

Mizoram FC, Luangmual, FC Kulikawn are doing a good job,” Zodingliana told in an exclusive interview.

Zodingliana represented India in the under-14, under-16, and under-19 teams. Later, in 2013, he kicked off his professional career with Shillong Lajong.

Meanwhile, the mid-fielder is gearing up to play for the Dynamos. The Delhi team signed him for the second edition of the league in July. Besides, Roberto Carlos, the team also boasts of other big names, like former Liverpool full-back and Norway's most capped international, John Arne Riise, and Frenchman Florent Malouda.

Talking about his new team, the 20-year-old said, “I am very excited because I’ll play with Carlos.

I’ll learn a lot from the Brazilian star. As a player, I have improved after playing in the first ISL. This time, I am looking forward to play alongside all these great players.”

Well, it’s a known fact that this young footballer idolizes French star Zinedine Zidane. “I try to copy his style, his passing abilities, in particular,” the Dynamos player said with a sparkle in his eyes.

“Rooney’s passion and his attitude towards the game is phenomenal. I emulate him as well.” he added.

Now, with two Pune-based clubs, Pune FC and Bharat FC likely to pull out of the I-League, reports suggest that All India Football Federation (AIFF) will merge the two leagues in the near future to improve the prospect of the game. When asked about the issue, Zodingliana, however, declined to comment.

Talking about the Indian football scenario in general, the player said, “Well, there are talented players in the country. Even last year, many foreign coaches said that Indian footballers had the skills.”
“We need to have better infrastructure and good coaches. It’s sad that we have the talent, but have such a poor FIFA ranking,” he added.

Hoping to play for the senior national team now, Zodingliana feels that its too early to say which team will take away the title in ISL 2015.

On being asked about his dream club, the former North-East United player said, “Manchester United is my dream club. So, yes, maybe someday I might play for the United. I don’t know if it’s possible.”

READ MORE - Football runs in every Northeasterners' blood: Dynamos’ Zodingliana

Kerala-Mizoram Bond over Football

The Kerala Mizo Association football team before a match against St Peter’s Kanathura in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday | B P Deepu The Kerala Mizo Association football team before a match against St Peter’s Kanathura in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday | B P Deepu THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The zest for football has brought  Kerala and Mizoram together this Onam season. The Kerala Mizoram Association (KMA), which represents 300-strong Mizo population in the state, has fielded a football team in the Sevens Football Tournament underway at Shangumugham Ground.
The team is just two weeks old but it has been giving local outfits a run for their money.
On Saturday the Mizo team in blue and white thrashed Smart Boys Arts and Sports Club, Kolliyoor with an outstanding score of 8-0. On Sunday evening they struggled a bit on the slushy ground, but still managed to overcome a strong St Peter’s Kanathur team. “Most of the youngsters in our team are students at the College of Engineering Thiruvananthapuram (CET),” said captain of the team Victor Lalbiakmawia, who is also a football coach with the Southern Air Command that has its headquarters in the city. “Football is very popular in Mizoram. It is the only sport played there,” he said.“We are encouraging young members to take part and try to blend in with the people of Kerala and Onam seems to be the best time,” said KMA president and team manager Wilson Vanramhluna.
“We’ll see how things go, and continue with the team if we can,” he said.
KMA was formed in 2009 and since then has organised regular assemblies for Mizos residing in Kerala. “Most of them are students and there are 11 families. There are also some doctors who are pursuing postgraduation here,” Wilson said.
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Aizawl want Derrick as coach

PANAJI: Aizawl FC are trying to convince Derrick Pereira to guide them in the I-League where they will debut this season.

Aizawl is the first club from Mizoram and the fourth from the north-east to qualify for India's premier football competition and are keen to have one of India's better-known coaches on their roll.

"They have made an offer to me but I am yet to decide. One reason why I left Pune FC was to be with my family in Goa and now to pack my bags again will be a difficult decision," said Derrick.

Aizawl, though, are willing to wait in their attempt to sign the man who has won the I-League with Mahindra United and has put up impressive performances at every club he has coached.

Derrick's last coaching assignment was with Salgaocar FC, his boyhood club, who did well in his first year, fighting for the I-League title, but barely managed to escape relegation on the final day against Dempo Sports Club.

Derrick won the Durand Cup with Salgaocar FC and made it to the semifinals of the Federation Cup.

Should he eventually decide to move to Aizawl FC in Mizoram, it will be a huge boost to the league newcomers. Aizawl are Mizoram's first representatives in the I-League, while the other three teams -- Shillong Lajong FC, Royal Wahingdoh and Rangdajied United -- are all from Meghalaya.

Aizawl FC was formed in 1984 and started off as an amateur club before having to shut shop after a decade. Current owner and president of the club, Robert Romawia Royte, is reported to have played a significant role in the revival of the club which won the Mizo Premier League and eventually qualified for India's premier football competition.
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NorthEast United FC sign Senegalese forward Diomansy​ Kamara

Senegalese forward Diomansy Kamara was on Tuesday signed by NorthEast United FC for the second edition of the Indian Super League football tournament.

NorthEast United FC sign Senegalese forward Diomansy​ Kamara
Guwahati: Senegalese forward Diomansy Kamara was on Tuesday signed by NorthEast United FC for the second edition of the Indian Super League football tournament.

Kamara has been brought on board to sharpen the forward offensive line and provide a cutting edge to NEUFC's attacks, the city franchise said in its website.

Kamara comes with extensive Premier League experience, having played for Portsmouth, West Bromwich Albion, Fulham and Leicester City.

He has also turned out for Celtic and has been capped 51 times for Senegal.

"I cannot tell you how excited I am to be a part of NorthEast United FC. I had a higher offer to play for another club in another league, but when I heard of the opportunity to play in the ISL, my interest was piqued," Kamara was quoted saying in the website.

He was also looking forward to play with their marquee recruit Simao Sabrosa.

"I have played against Simao before in Turkey and let me tell you, he is a special talent. Together, we can also share our experience with the younger players and collectively improve as a team. I also have high regard for our head coach (Cesar Farias)."

Diomansy is one the first International forwards to sign for NEUFC, as the club looks forward to an improved campaign in the second edition of the ISL.

READ MORE - NorthEast United FC sign Senegalese forward Diomansy​ Kamara

Shillong Lajong sells equity in NEUFC

SHILLONG, June 19 : I-League outfit Shillong Lajong FC today announced its decision to sell its stake in Indian Super League (ISL) franchise Northeast United FC in order to focus on grassroots and youth development programmes in the region.

Shillong Lajong and NEUFC co-owner John Abraham had entered into a partnership last year to successfully bid for the ISL franchise which played its inaugural season with a base in Guwahati. 14 Shillong Lajong players from the various north-eastern states such as Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Assam and Sikkim plied their trade for the ISL side.

Larsing Ming Sawyan, managing director of Shillong Lajong FC said, “Lajong has decided to sell its stake in Northeast United in order to focus on our principal vision of building our youth development programs for the region by creating tangible assets on the ground and inculcate the best of modern practices for youth development.”

He added: “We remain committed to supporting the Indian Super League, IMGR and AIFF and shall continue to release our players for the ISL.”
READ MORE - Shillong Lajong sells equity in NEUFC