‘Savun Hampur – The Mizoram Football Story’
By: John Zothansanga©
Pp.172; Rs. 250. Aizawl: Lois Bet
A review of ‘Savun Hampuar – The Mizoram Football Story’
Morung Express News
The chilly Friday evening of January 31, 2014 is unforgettable for Mizoram football fans. On the fateful day, at the Aizawl’s AR Ground, fondly called ‘Lammual’ by locals, the State took a giant step towards becoming a football powerhouse in India.
Egged by a vociferous home crowd adorned with vibrant red colours, Mizoram beat Manipur in the final match of North East Zone Santosh Trophy Group B encounter to qualify for the main round.
The team went on to lift the National Championship, its first major trophy in the National arena, in another red letter day – Sunday, March 9, 2014.
The rest is history.
With over 58 players in the I-league, Mizoram today contributes 20% of domestic players to India’s premier football league – the most of any state in the country.
The North Eastern state at present, is arguably the finest factory for producing footballers – Jeje Lalpekhlua, Lalrindika Ralte, Lalchhuanmawia Fanai, Malsawmzuala, Daniel Lalhlimpuia to name a few.
How did the journey begin?
Mizoram’s path to glory, however, was not overnight. It was a result of years of careful nurturing with a well planned state league, effective development programmes at the grassroots level and improvement of infrastructure.
In “Savun Hampuar – The Mizoram Football Story,” John Zothansanga – a Sports writer with leading Mizo daily ‘Vanglaini’ – delightfully re-counts the journey. The book is impressively detailed with pre-match build-up, interviews, fan accounts and match records including team lists, substitutes, score lines etc. The author also has records for a lot of firsts – first MPL goal scorer, first red card etc.
The trigger: The era of Mama
In 2002, a little known winger named S. Malsawmtluanga, popularly known as Mama, signed for Kolkata giants East Bengal and became the first from the state to play professional football.
Mizoram players, before 2002 never dreamt of playing professionally, the author writes.
“When the Mizoram’s media came to know a little winger from Mizoram was making big in Indian football and signed for Kolkata giants East Bengal, newspapers and magazines in Mizoram were full of Mama’s interviews and posters, the story of his professional football life and the challenges he had to face,” the author recalls.
“We never thought of watching a Mizo guy playing football on television, but when you saw Mama running at the Kolkata derby in front of thousands of crowd, every Mizo kid started to dream of becoming a professional footballer,” remarked Tetea Hmar, MFA Secretary.
Mama had sparked a revolution in Mizoram inspiring and paving the way for every football loving kid in the state to take up the sport professionally.
The Molding Field: MPL
“People talk about the recent achievement of Aizawl FC, which is indeed a great football story. But we must never forget the fact that MPL started the football revolution in Mizoram,” Lalnghinglova Hmar alias Tetea Hmar, the Mizoram Football Association Secretary says of the Mizoram Premier League (MPL) which started in 2012.
Often touted as “a game without a future”, it was no easy choice for Mizo youngsters to take to football, but when the Mizoram Football Association (MFA) roped in a local cable TV network as sponsor for the MPL, nothing would stop the state.
The 5 year deal of Rs. 1.25 crore (Rs. 25 lakh yearly) for a state league was clearly a huge risk taken by ZONET Cable TV Pvt. Ltd. but their motive was never to profit.
“In terms of money, we lost around 30% annually but we believe to be a part of the Mizoram football history it is worth the loss and we are extremely happy we could do something for the state football,” General Manager of Zonet LV Lalthantluanga says.
Before the MPL came into existence, there were only a handful of Mizo footballers playing at a professional level. With the coming of MPL, the door automatically opened.
“We were given a platform where all we had to do was to work harder,” says East Bengal defender Lalramchullova who signed up for the Kolkata giants from Aizawl FC.
The MPL had become a “stepping stone” for Mizo footballers to reach for greater heights.
The Trophies: Winning Santosh Trophy, I-League
The first fruit was born when the state team won the Dr. T Ao Trophy in 2014. However, it was success at the National arena when the full harvest was reaped.
A month later, the state lifted the Santosh Trophy 2014 beating Railways 3-0 and the joy at winning a first major trophy was out of the ordinary.
The Mizoram government would go on to declare March 12, 2014 as a state holiday to welcome their “heroic footballers” for winning the Santosh Trophy.
“Aizawl Street was full of red colours,” the author recounts and adds, “You might never see such grand welcome for a Santosh Trophy champion before.”
The drum beats and the sound of thousands of football fans inundated Aizawl’s AR Ground – also known as ‘Mizo Wembley’ – where the football team was accorded a hero’s welcome.
From Relegation to Champions
While Aizawl FC made its debut in I-League in 2016, it finished 8th on the table which meant the team would be relegated to the second division for the next season.
But 2017 would be a special year for Mizoram football. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) rescinded Aizawl FC’s relegation after a few Goan sides pulled out and the North-Eastern side was re-instated back to the I-League.
Not the one to waste the second chance, the team would go on to create one of the most remarkable achievements in Indian football history by lifting the country’s top flight league.
It was the Leicester City-moment of Indian football and the author largely credits Aizawl FC’s win to the signing of Coach Khalid Jamil. His “greatest asset”, the author observed was his calmness, which always pulled away the pressure from his players.
Needing just a draw against Shillong’s Lajong FC to be crowned I-league champions in the final stage, the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Shillong with more than 20,000 fans, was where the Mizo side scripted football history for the State.
Host Lajong had taken the lead at half time but Aizawl FC coach Khalid Jamil knew he only needed a goal. Jamil brought on forward William Lalnufela in place of a midfielder and that substitution proved to be a masterstroke as Lalnufela would go on to score the equaliser.
“That was the moment when you could hear people shouting ‘Goal…’ not only in the JN Stadium , but in the whole of Mizoram,” the author quips.
The city of Aizawl was in hysteria. People danced with joy as the whole city celebrated. Aizawl FC had become champions.
However, the book is not just a ‘hagiography’ of football. The last chapter dedicated to another Mizo football star Jeje Lalpekhlua, discusses the future challenges and prospects. “I am happy on how we as a state has improved in the National scene. But we are just starting our journey. I am afraid it will end here before we can reach our full potential,” voices Lalpekhlua.
Not unfounded as there have been a few instances where promising Mizo players have lost their way and faded into oblivion, the author notes.
Another obstacle Jeje pointed out is lack of good coaches. “There is an art to every movement in football, when to kick the ball, where to kick, how to control your feet etc. Kids can learn all this technique from a good grassroots coach.”
Additionally, “You need discipline in practice, you need discipline to keep your body in shape, you need discipline inside the pitch so that your performance is not overrun by emotions,” the India’ International underscores. “Discipline is everything.”
While the book begs for better editing and is at times riddled with too much detail, there are definitely moments in the book where readers can connect with the writer and feel that they are living the moment of pain, of ecstasy, of hysteria – all connected to the beautiful game called football. While the first edition is already out of stock, perhaps the second edition which is due next year will make the necessary rectifications.