Fever Pitch: A brief history of WC fervor in Mokokchung

From ‘Uncle Maradona’ to Baggio’s style pig-tail to flag hoisting

Limalenden Longkumer
Mokokchung | June 11

Mokokchung has a long footballing history dating back to the pre-independence era, and owns the remarkable distinction of producing independent India’s football team captain to the London Olympics 1948 in the person of Dr. T. Ao.  

But World Cup fervor rising to fever pitch is a relatively recent phenomenon. The Morung Express take a walk down memory lane and revisit how Mokokchung fell in love with World Cup and how it reached fever pitch over the years.  

Till 1986: For the first time in India, FIFA World Cup was telecast live on Doordarshan in 1982. Only the semi-finals and the final matches of the tournament played in Spain were aired that year but there were hardly any TVs in Mokokchung back then. The next World Cup was hosted by Mexico in 1986.  

This time, the whole World Cup was telecast live in India as per media reports. Although there were not too many TVs in Mokokchung in1986 either, maybe there were just enough to imprint the World Cup in the minds of the people. Those who had the luxury of watching the 1986 World Cup fondly talks about the ‘Mexican Wave’ and Maradona.  

“After the Delhi Asian Games 1982, Doordarshan started broadcasting all over the country and people started buying TVs. I am sure people had TVs in Mokokchung too,” said Amba Jamir, Executive Director of Sustainable Development Forum Nagaland and a Brazil fan, who watched the 1986 World Cup as a student in Shillong. Imlikumzuk Longkumer, an avid Germany fan since 1990, recalls there were a number of Black & White TVs in Mokokchung although there were only a few Wetson Color TVs.  

He recalls walking kilometers to watch the World Cup matches on color TVs. He also recalls that football fans followed the World Cup through sports tabloids in publication during those days like Sports Illustrated, Sports Star and Sports Week, and recollects in nostalgia how they collected posters of their favorite players from those sports magazines.  

1990: By Italia 1990, TVs had reached even the remotest villages and the official World Cup song of that year, “To be number one” became the number one sing-along and is regarded by many football fans from those days as the “best World Cup song ever.” A tearful Maradona after losing against West Germany in the controversial final left many football fans in Mokokchung sorry that year.  

Fans composed songs that went like “Uncle Maradona, please don’t cry. It was the referee’s fault, not yours” while puns about elderly women saying prayers for Maradona are told to this day. Germany was seen as the “villain team” by many for beating Maradona’s Argentina. Early World Cup followers agree that Italia 1990 can be said to be the beginning of Mokokchung’s real love affair with the World Cup.  

Football’s popularity surged more than ever before and enthusiasts formed the Mokokchung District Football Association in 1994, reportedly the first District Football Association in Nagaland.  

1994: USA 1994 followed and Brazil’s Romario and Bebeto became household names while Italy’s Roberto Baggio missing the decisive penalty shootout in the final against Brazil broke many a fan’s hearts.  

Sporting a Roberto Baggio style pig-tail by local football players became trendy. By France 1998, cable TVs had reached Mokokchung and Brazil with their flamboyant players was noticeably the most popular team among the townsfolk, with Ronaldo being their favorite pick. Brazil losing to the host nation France in the final came as a shocker to many football fans in Mokokchung.  

The following World Cup in Korea-Japan in 2002 was followed with equal zeal by passionate football fans as the tournament was played in Asia for the first time. South Korea reaching the semi-finals that year came as a pleasant surprise. Defending champions France along with Argentina being eliminated in the group stages came as a shocker.  

2006 till date: And then came FIFA World Cup 2006 Germany. As in the years before, football fans enthusiastically welcomed the World Cup but with a difference this time. With Germany coming into the tournament as hosts and as strong title contenders, their fans in Mokokchung upped the ante. For the first time in record, fans hoisted the Germany flag in Mokokchung’s Arkong Ward which was published in The North East Herald, an English daily now out of publication.  

Lawrence Imchen, the journalist who photographed the fans along with the hoisted flag attests that it was the first in Mokokchung. Sademmeren, the Germany fan who first hoisted the flag, was pictured along with his friend Aongsen Aier who is actually an England fan. Other Germany fans in Arkong Ward followed Sademmeren and hoisted their own flags and made banners and car flags. A photo of football fans with Germany flags was also published in The Morung Express and the vernacular Ao Milen.  

News about this spread like wildfire and passionate football fans across the town hoisted their own flags of their choice. A new ‘tradition’ thus evolved and fans in Mokokchung hoist the national flags of their favorite teams every World Cup ever since. By what has now become an entrenched tradition, fans hoist the flags weeks ahead of the World Cup and as the tournament progresses, fans of those teams being eliminated from the competition take down their flags – often in the cover of night.  

Another interesting aspect of hoisting the World Cup flags is that some fans hoist the flags of various teams with the height of the flag pole being proportionate to the fans’ order of preference. The first choice flag is hoisted taller than the rest, followed by the second choice and so on in descending order. Once the team is eliminated from the competition, the flag of that team is removed.  

Another special feature of the 2006 World Cup for the football fans in Mokokchung was the live screening of the final match on a giant screen at Imlong Place, the quintessential town square. For the first time in Mokokchung, football fans thronged in thousands to watch a World Cup final match live on a giant screen. It was organized by the Ao Kaketshir Mungdang. Aodangnok, who was then the president of AKM, recalls that he initiated the screening of the final match after seeing the overwhelming enthusiasm and fan following in Mokokchung.  

All World Cup final matches has been similarly screened by football lovers ever since. “The people of Mokokchung are a cheerful lot. People coming together and supporting their favorite teams is an indication of deep community bonding among the people of Mokokchung. This cheerfulness and supportive nature of the people, if channelized in the right direction, can do wonders for the good of the society,” observes the former student leader and an ardent Brazil fan.  

World Cup fervor may reach fever pitch in Mokokchung but there is no organized group stoking the fire but it is simply the spontaneous response from passionate football fans. This year too, the social media group “I Love Mokokchung” is set to organize the screening of the final match.  

“We screened the final of the last World Cup. Thousands of football fans from all over the town turned up with flags, banners, face-paints, donning jerseys and all to watch the beautiful game,” narrates Arsashi, an admin of the social media group. “Since the people of Mokokchung simply love football, it will be good if some professional groups come up with an elaborate plan from the next World Cup on,” he adds.  

With the coming of pocket internet, smart phones and social media, the World Cup fervor in Mokokchung has only gotten higher until it reached fever pitch as it is today.