Aizawl FC's success story is harbinger of hope
Aizawl FC's fairytale run to I-League glory is a rare and incredible story in present-day Indian football, a harbinger of hope for reviving its once glorious past.
There could be few stories more treasured in the country's football history than the crowning of a club, born and bred in the hill town of the northeastern state of Mizoram.
That it has done it in only its second season, makes the achievement all the more special.
The air is optimistic in that part of the world, and people in high places have begun to harbour high hopes.
"After we finished eighth in our debut season we promised to ourselves that we will have to secure a top-four finish.
"But as things turned out, look where we are right now," Aizawl FC owner Robert Royte said in an interview.
It seems the club from nowhere, is now known to everyone, everywhere.
Having patiently done all the hard work for the longest time, the club took a giant step towards realising its dream of winning India's top league when Zohmingliana Ralte's late strike left Mohun Bagan stunned in the penultimate round clash.
The wild celebrations by heads totting the stands at Rajiv Gandhi Stadium were appropriate after they got the better of Mohun Bagan, a club that stands for almost everything in Indian football.
Aizawl FC needed a draw against neighbouring rival Shillong Lajong FC in the concluding round to walk away with the crown.
And a 1-1 stalemate it was, leading to another round of celebration back home, one that was much bigger than the previous week. They owe it to the bunch of footballers, whose combined salary is less than one Sony Norde, Mohun Bagan's Haitian ace.
This was also a comeback of sorts by Aizawl FC. Relegated intheir debut season, they were readmitted when Goan clubs fell out with the All India Football Federation over the I- League and ISL merger issue and they were needed to make up the numbers. In came Aizawl. And how!
"We have a long way to go. But for the time being I would say my boys have gone from zero to hero. Obviously it has been a fantastic ride," Royte said.
That football has the power to distract is an accepted belief, and Royte has no doubt the sport has had a positive impact on the society there.
The joy, the happiness, the success that comes with football can be intoxicating.
"You can understand how difficult it is to express in words. That is not important. What is important is that my boys have done it.
"Yes, football, as it does elsewhere, has distracted the society here from drugs, alcohol and other vices. It's an outlet," Royte said.
Royte has a vision and he is not content with one title- winning season.
"We are focussed on youth development. We have six academies
including one in Tripura. We ensure that the best talent gets picked on merit. Our reserve bench is very strong I can vouch for that." Agencies