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Forgotten heroes of Northeast India

World Football today is dominated by football superstars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who use to score a tremendous amount of goals and as a result they grab all the headlines. Players often want to imitate Wayne Rooney and Samuel Eto'os; they idolize these players as they receive so much attention from the media for doing their job. But often, there are many great players in World Football who don't receive the attention they really deserve. Maybe because they don't play an attractive position, or maybe they play at a small club like Chetri(35), Sandhu(28), Lalengmawia(19); even if they give their 100 percent effort, but often we can see that they don't receive the credit they deserve for it. But if you are someone who really loves the game, you must know that every position has its importance and every player has a job to do. And whether the job gets done well or not we must always applaud the players.

FIFA WORLDCUP - madness that circles the nation is something worth watching! And it doesn't matter how we, Indians, are crazy for this madness; our country does not qualify to be on the list of FIFA anyway. It’s the agony and pain that we have been bearing since 1930 when India did not take part because, as the speculations say, we played barefoot! even India qualified in 1950 but they have no entries in the tournament.

On the contrary, we never glorified the one great footballer of India, midfielder Abdul Latif(Assam) who was a key member of the 1970 Bangkok Asian Games represented and bagged the bronze medal along with the team India.In 1968 he represented India in Asia Cup Qualifier in Myanmar. In 1969, Merdeka Cup - a match in which he even scored a goal against Singapore resulting in a win of 3-0.

There is no football club in India where there is no player from the northeastern region. Some of them achieved a great success for both the country and club, like Bhaichung Bhutia, Irungbam Surkumar Singh, Dhanachandra Singh, Udanta Singh, etc while the rest thrive in the club level only. But when did it start? Can anyone guess when this uneven and most remote area of India gets familiar with the most beautiful game which is named as football?

Image of our national team in 1948 along with Dr Talimerin Ao in the middle
Indian National Team At Olympics 1948 Dr Talimerin Ao(in the middle)

Well! It was started about 80 years ago when a brilliant student of Cotton College in Assam played football along with his study of MBBS. I am talking about Dr. Talimeren Ao(Nagaland), the first Indian football team Captain. He then was been selected as the General Secretary of Sports & Athletics in the College. In 1939 Dr. T.Ao also helped his college to win many tournaments which was been held in Guwahati. He even made an unofficial Indian record which is about 23 feet high jump in that year. In 1943 he joined Mohun Bagan A.C, where he played for nine years. He also captained the Mohun Bagan from 1948-1949. He won Calcutta League thrice, Lady Hardinge Shield, Coochbehar Cup thrice, IFA Shield twice, Raja Shield and Trades Cup(5 times) with the Mariners.

Our former national team arriving at venue
India vs France on 31st July 1948 Indian Team arriving
A stamp in India made in regards of Dr Talimeren Ao
Dr Talimeren Ao 2018 stamp of India

The greatest achievement in the life of Dr. T Ao came in 1948. In 1948, for the first time since independence Indian football team had decided to compete in the London Olympics and Dr. T Ao was elected as the Captain of that team. But sadly in India's first major international tournament, where a predominantly barefooted Indian team lost to France by a narrow margin of 2-1. It's unknown to many Indians that our first Captain was given an offer by Arsenal Football Club but instead he refused the offer for the love of his nation. T.Ao led the national team in many friendly matches in Singapore, Netherlands (then known as Holland)Myanmar, Wales, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Bangladesh from 1949 to 1951.

The first footballer to play at a top-flight club in India from Mizoram was Shylo Malsawmtluanga who enjoys a cult status in his home state. He is popularly known as 'Mama' among Indian football fans, his move to East Bengal in 2002 has inspired many Mizo youngsters to follow in his footsteps. He then went on to win two league titles and the 2003 ASEAN Cup with the Kolkata giants, including other trophies. The 30- year-old footballer, however, has surprisingly played for India on only three occasions so far.

These players of India, not only made India proud but also have contributed a great lesson that today’s footballers needed the most – ‘when there is a will, there is a way.’

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