On a day when Aizawl FC made Indian footballing history, nothing truly embodies the spirit of the team as the word ‘community’. Since the team sprung from oblivion in 2011, it’s one driving factor whether at Mizo Premier League games, division two or I-League games have been it’s fans.
While home crowds have only swelled in size, away days have seen their fair share of Mizos turn up to cheer for the plucky underdogs. The men from the hills won their first I-League title, becoming the first team from the Northeast to win a national league championship, eclipsing Royal Wahingdoh who finished third two seasons prior to Aizawl’s triumph.
Scroll spoke to fans of the club a day after it felt like a “dream” for some:
‘Hope this will help kids who want to play football’
Lalsangpuia Ngente, associated with Mizo Sports website InKhel.com, says that the entire city of Aizawl was “shaking” the moment they clinched the title. With a population of about 3 lakhs, he says that everybody was going “Goal” when William Lalnunfela scored in the Northeast derby.
“Some of the youth, they were out of their house screaming Aizawl FC. There were all sorts of fireworks and tiny bombs going off, Ngente says. Puia who’s watched all of their home games this season says that the 1-1 draw at home against Bengaluru FC felt like the pinnacle. “They were defending champions and we played well. They have a lot of Mizo players,” he was quick to point out.
He reiterates that it was a remarkable moment, especially for the youth, who hopes that parents of kids having dreams of playing football will be encouraged to do so, because of Aizawl FC’s impact.
‘We hoped that our team would not get a red card’
Amoyie Sailo says she just wanted to keep switching between matches as second-placed Bagan were playing Chennai City FC in Kolkata, “I was tracking the live score of the other match even when we were watching Aizawl play.”
She spoke of the underlying tension among the fans concerning the referees, “We had heard that all the referees were from (West) Bengal and that our club had appealed against it. We were hoping that our team would not get a red card.” She adds however that the referee Pranjal Banerjee was fair, after discussions on social media had alleged that there was a Mohun Bagan flag flying from the Banerjees’ terrace.
“The last four minutes were breathless with them (Lajong) attacking. We just needed a draw, but they (Bagan) were leading 2-1. Then we rejoiced at the final whistle,” Amoyie exclaims.
The most pivotal moment according to her was the 3-1 away win over Churchill Brothers, “It’s true that we beat East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. But they (Churchill) had beaten the Kolkata teams as well. It was a crucial away victory.”
She’s not wrong. In a title race where Bagan were piling on the pressure ahead of their title decider at Aizawl, the victory over Churchill was absolutely crucial for the highlanders to stay in the chase.
‘Mohun Bagan win was absolutely vital’
Temami Ralte, who works for a subsidiary of Tata Trusts says it scarcely felt believable, “I woke up in the morning and pinched myself to ensure that I wasn’t dreaming.” Ralte says that she was a fan of the team from the state capital “long before they entered the I-League”, and that she had watched the club play in the Mizo Premier League since 2012.
On the eve of the match, the Ralte household was experiencing “sleeplessness” in anticipation of the big finale. She says that Aizawl beating East Bengal was massive and that their defeat of Mohun Bagan at home was probably the most important one because they were level on points going into the match.
Ralte, a close friend of centre-back Zotea Ralte’s says she has witnessed the Mizo hardman at close quarters, rising through the divisions. Jayesh Rane and Lalruatthra were the two players who most impressed Ralte, who says she’ll never forget the day that there was “joy running in the streets.”
‘Albino Gomes and God saved us’
Samuel Lalruatfela, a resident of Aizawl saw most of the matches on television due to his work taking him to the nearby Lawngtlai district. Fela, who watched this game at home says that he had been following the team ever since they revived the team in 2011.
He says that the embodiment of the team’s spirit is Brandon Vanlalremdika, who he says has improved with time. Fela who watched all of Aizawl’s home games at the stadium in their first I-League campaign, says that the diminutive playmaker had learnt from Manuel Fraile, “The Spanish coach (Fraile) really helped him last season.”
All Aizawl coaches pale before one, in Fela’s eyes. “Khalid Jamil has transformed the team, he’s a magician.” He signs off by saying that there were two forces at play, “As we had seen in the dying minutes, there was not only Albino Gomes who kept the goal safe, the prayers of Mizo people were answered by God and kept it safe for us.”
In Aizawl, it would seem that everyone has their own opinion of the team but all present are for the club as much is the club is for them.