The Northeast club broke a football stereotype with their win but do we see a cultural shift? Khel Now finds out…
‘Hi! I’m Higio. I’m from Arunachal Pradesh, a state in India most people believe and associate to Chinese rule.’ Higio made national news on 13th March this year for oppressive behaviour and racial abuse from his landlord in Bengaluru. Not the first time, but we hope it is the last.
Just a student, Higio lived in a two-bedroom house owned by Hemanth Kumar, who allegedly beat him up because other tenants complained that Higio was over-using water and thus, others were facing a scarcity. Kumar first abused him on the phone and then, out of impulse, attacked him physically, forcing him to lick his shoe. This incident was one of the darkest in India’s recent racial conundrum – a country which boasts of its diversity beyond borders.
Let’s finish this story before we get to the football angle. Higio went to the police, filed charges against the landlord but the police did not include the racial remark part from his statement. Sadly, this isn’t a one-off incident. This has happened a lot of times in various parts in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Bangalore, and to be fair, this needs to stop right away.
On 30th April, a Mizoram team broke a stereotype again. Aizawl FC defeated the bigwigs of Indian football to the coveted I-league title, India’s elite tournament which went on for four months. They won it against all odds and to put that to literal introspection, Mohun Bagan’s star man Sony Norde cost more than the whole Aizawl FC team.
The Northeast has contributed a lot to Indian football. A major share of Bengaluru FC’s famed youth system flanks the players from this region. Shillong Lajong have had shoe-string budgets and work on a policy of being the bridge between young talent and bigger avenues. The league was long coming to the mountains and finally, it did.
With the kind of talent at their disposal, Aizawl’s football was never going to be poor in the first place. Just a few astute signings, getting the right kind of attitude within the players and a little more conviction and belief about the journey is what was needed and that is what a man who goes by the name of Khalid Jamil, did.
Jamil was a coach at Mumbai FC for seven years and always managed to save the team from relegation, credible going by the fact that he had a shoe-string budget, average quality of talent and very late-in-coming foreigners every season. Last year though, the club management sacked him and this year they’ve relegated.
Shillong Lajong and other Northeast clubs have always played the role of feeders in Indian football and thus no teams actually believed their title credentials. Call it arrogance, call it nonchalance, but other Indian clubs never gave them too much importance and that is why Aizawl’s victory is even more important in the context of Indian football.
For instance, let’s take the case of Zohmingliana Ralte. He stands at a healthy height of 5’10’’, is a massive defender with good speed and a good mind. Ralte has played faltering roles throughout his career at Pune FC, Shillong Lajong and DSK Shivajians. Under Khalid Jamil, Ralte looked like a changed man.
Concentrating, always leading his side’s backline and dedicated to a cause, Ralte’s celebration after he scored in the penultimate game against Bagan and his tears after the draw against Shillong Lajong show what the trophy and the journey meant to every Northeast player. Here’s hoping they’ll, FINALLY, get their due.
Financially speaking, Aizawl FC had a budget of just 1 crore, exactly the amount they won with the I-league title. Meanwhile, Kolkata heavyweights Mohun Bagan and East Bengal had budgets in the region of 20 and 15 crores respectively. Bengaluru FC, the other big club, is backed by corporate giant JSW group. Aizawl FC was close to being defunct and was only re-invigorated by Robert Romawia Royte in 2012. This show that the Reds have broken another stereotype, anti-typical of Indian football.
We hope that the topographical racism in football ends here too. With the victory, Aizawl FC’s typical silenced celebrations look even more delicious, as if they’re saying, “In your face.” It is high-time we give the Northeast the respect and value it deserve because the mountains are surely closer to the Gods. If you do not believe this, ask Dipanda Dicka, who’s shot from point-blank range distance had hit the post that fine Sunday evening.