Fairy tales usually have happy endings and the story of India’s Aizawl FC is no different than a fairy tale.
Football has become money-oriented these days, clubs tend to spend big to ‘buy’ success across the globe. Top-notch I-League clubs like Bengaluru FC, Kingfisher East Bengal or Mohun Bagan constructed big budget sides in order to compete for the title. But there has been a outfit from North East who taught everyone a lesson yesterday – football is still all about passion, dedication and commitment. No matter how much you spend, how many big names you possess – it’s a game of 90 minutes; no matter how undervalued you are, miracles can happen with persistence and tenacity.
Many are comparing Aizawl’s unforeseen I-League glory with Leicester City’s Premier League title triumph. But the reality is somewhat different. They were relegated last year in their debut campaign despite delivering some glorious and inspiring football. They finished eighth among nine clubs competing in the league and finished above relegation-immune DSK Shivajians. But their encouraging display in Federation Cup (became runners-up as they lost to Mohun Bagan in final) was rewarded by AIFF as they were reinstated in I-League despite going down:
“Keeping in mind the heartwarming performance of Aizawl FC in the last edition, the Committee unanimously decided to give them a ticket to play in the 2016-17 edition.”
The Mizoram-based outfit’s success story can never be termed as ‘fluke’. A club founded only 33 years back that too from an economically weaker part of India, managed to field a squad of around 3 cr. INR only. The Aizawl FC management deserves lots of applauds as they preferred grass-root development over profit and constituted a team full of youthful and energetic prodigies from North East. Credits go to Jahar Das, their “Head of Youth Development” project, who nurtured and sharpened their raw talent.
The appointment of Khalid Jamil was another masterstroke by the Aizawl management as the former Indian international holds vast experience (both as manager and player) at the age of 40. He won the National League back in 2006 with Mahindra United and managed Mumbai FC for previous seven years. His tough, disciplined yet amiable outlook helped the youngsters grow in confidence. They not only have delivered some awe-inspiring football, but also been polished, masterly and consistent throughout the campaign. Their reward is thoroughly earned by hard-work and discipline, their I-League triumph is not a lucky break.
Finally, fans are greeted as the twelfth man in any game; Aizawl FC supporters redefined the connotation with enormous support that motivated the youngsters to perform more than their ability. East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, the two Kolkata giants often feel proud of their fanbase and age old rivalry that usually gets ugly with heated argument, abuses and fierce fights. Aizawl FC fans taught us how to enrich a football club not only with passion and also with ethics, moral values and respect. They have been captured clearing wastes left by the crowd from the gallery, a rare visual in Indian football where the news of breaking seats, throwing stones and spitting are more familiar. They term them as ‘The People’s Club’, Aizawl fans have unquestionably justified that.
Aizawl’s success will force them sell their rising stars to big guns of I-League who will raid them prior to upcoming campaign. But the North East outfit won’t surrender their fight for existence that easily and will enlighten Indian football with more superstars of future banking on their honest as well as sincere development and scouting mission.