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Saturday, June 07, 2014

Chp 507. Mizoram versus Maharashtra



The sound of Mizos screaming out football chants in unison echoed across the large football stadium. “A goal dawn e” means “We’re going to score” and this is uttered during a corner kick or a free kick so as to intimidate the opposing team.  Except this time, the opposing team didn’t understand a single word and the stadium was in Mumbai. Yet, we shouted together because it was fun, and it encouraged our young players who traveled all the way from Mizoram to play a match against WIFA.

WIFA XI (Western India Football Association), consisted of a mix of Maharashtra Santosh Trophy Team players and the best players of various football clubs within Maharashtra including renowned senior players such as Steven Dias and Raju Gaikwad, and Brazilian internationals like Jose Ramirez Barretto and Roberto ‘Beto’ Mendes da Silva.

Yes it was a tough team, and even though it was just a friendly match, Mizos all across Mumbai came together to cheer for our state team. We wore red, the color of our football team, to show our support. Below is us preparing to go to the football stadium.

But how did it all come to this? Let’s take a brief look back at what happened three months ago.

In March 2014, the tiny state of Mizoram became the latest Santosh Trophy champion, India’s most prestigious football tournament. After Manipur won the title in 2002, Mizoram became the second North Eastern state to win this coveted title.

And the road to Mizoram’s victory was not easy at all. After beating local heavyweights Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh to qualify for the North East zone, the team went on undefeated to beat powerhouses Kerala, Maharashtra, Services, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu and Railways to clinch the title! Unbelievable.

With a total population of just around a million, Mizoram, the second least populated state in India dominated the nation. It was a day worth remembering and celebrating. The state government even declared the next working day a state holiday and the returning team members were given a grand Hero’s welcome by the people of Mizoram.

Just last month, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, a German club team currently in 9th position at the Bundesliga this season, travelled all the way from Germany to Mizoram to play an exhibition match against the team!!! Though this grand incident was hardly mentioned in the Indian media, the state of Mizoram was abuzz with fervor and everybody went crazy there. And even though Mizoram lost 3-0, it was a dream come true for every Mizo to watch many international players (who will be representing various countries in this upcoming World Cup) to play in our very own home town football ground!

Such is the craze for football back home.

A few days ago, I got a message from Tetea Hmar, the General Secretary of MFA (Mizoram Football Association), telling me that he’s coming to Mumbai with the team! Though I’ve never met Tetea Hmar in real life, we’ve known each other for a long time in the online world and we have a lot of common friends as well.

And so the word quickly spread within our Mumbai Mizo circle. Click on all photos below to enlarge. Most of the photos below are mine, with a few taken from Mumbai Mizo FB group, WIFA FB page, and Tetea Hmar’s extremely hard to detect Bluetooth :D

Three days ago, I was there at the arrival terminal of Mumbai airport, excitedly waiting for our Mizoram team to arrive!

Funnily, I was the only Mizo who could make it to the airport :D

Everybody else was busy with work and since they had already planned to take a leave on the day of the match, they couldn’t afford to miss work by coming to the airport as well. That’s the thing about us Mumbai Mizos (or a typical Mumbaikar for that matter). First of all, Mumbai is a very expensive city, so we do not have a large Mizo student population (the ones most likely to be present at such occasions) like other Mizo Associations in Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata etc. And secondly, due to the high cost of living, we have to continuously struggle and focus on our work if we want to continue earning our daily bread.

Anyway, I got the blessings of our Mumbai Mizo Association leaders to warmly welcome the team on behalf of the Mumbai Mizo community. Although it was just me alone, I screamed and shouted and yelled and cheered when they walked out of the airport. I was the photographer cum the handshaker cum the narrator cum the introductor cum the everythingtor. And hey, look at it this way - there are more people living in Andheri West than the entire Mizo population. There may be 1 million Mizos but there are 112 million Maharashtrians. So just one single me welcoming them to Maharashtra was equivalent to 112 Maharashtrians welcoming them :)

Just as they were about to board their bus provided by their sponsors, my friend Tluangboihi too arrived at the airport. So now, there were 224 Maharashtrians welcoming the team. What a grand welcome indeed :)

Late as she was, she still managed to take a pic with them. Typical Tluangboihi :P

The team getting into the bus…

The next day, we were all pumped up, excited to watch our team in action. Even though Mizo supporters were asked to wear any tee shirt that is red in color, some unknown person started spreading a rumor that everyone must wear red Arsenal jersey, and so a lot of people came in their Arsenal jerseys. Man, that person is so evil :D

We reached Cooperage Football stadium just before kickoff. Machhana, Charlie and the others from Mizoram House had made this giant banner for our Mizoram team.

Mizos from all over Mumbai slowly started filling up the stands…

The players entered the field, warmed up, completed the formalities, and the match started! COMONNN MIZORAM!

As the sun set, the floodlights came on, adding more awesomeness to the experience. We shouted and cheered and jeered, keeping us all well entertained.

The place was an assortment of all kinds of Mizos, from the football fanatic Arsenal jersey wearing kind to the women extremely concerned about the humidity continuously spoiling their make-up :D

A view from the other side of the stadium, courtesy WIFA facebook page. Check out the stark contrast in the way spectators are watching the match :)

Even though Mizoram had already beaten Maharashtra at the recently concluded Santosh Trophy tournament, I’d just like to remind you all again that this was not the same Maharashtra Santosh Trophy team. Professional players like Steven Dias, Raju Gaikwad and the Brazilians greatly changed the momentum of the game. If only we too had the likes of Jeje, Dika, Mama, Robert etc. playing for our side :P In addition to that, our youngsters were not that used to playing under such a hot and humid condition (the recent Santosh Trophy which this team won was held at Siliguri).

But our young players played excellently. Valpuia managed to beat the goal keeper twice, only to be denied by the post on both occasions. And Biaktea’s excellent kick was blocked by the extremely flexible goalkeeper Harshad Meher. He made a couple of other really brilliant saves as well, and to me, he was the Man of the Match.

WIFA XI scored twice, one in each half. The first goal came from Linekar Machado, and his shot hit the bottom of the top crossbar but rebounded just enough to bounce across the goal line. Although some people watching from the other side argued that he was in an offside position, the second goal from Mohammed Shafique was a clear goal. No contention about it. Mizoram on the other hand, remained goalless. Some of my Mizo friends blamed those of us wearing Arsenal jerseys for the loss, saying our team ended up playing just like Arsenal FC - “Great passing skills and domination of the game but fails to execute the final goal score”. Haha. I’ll take that with a pinch of salt. :P

Overall we had a really great time, regardless of the final score.

Perhaps one of the best things Mizoram team achieved was bringing so many Mizos from all over Mumbai together. The Mumbai Mizo Association leaders jokingly said they had no idea THAT many Mizos were living in Mumbai, while the BMCF (Bombay Mizo Christian Fellowship) leader said the number of Mizos present at the stadium was five times the number of people who attend our weekly Mizo Church service :D

Well played indeed WIFA XI.

After the match, there was the usual pitch invasion. I am extremely honored to be the first person to jump over the fence and run inside (although the next day I ended up having muscle cramps all over my body because of that… :P )

Players receiving medals…

Here is Steven Dias, captain of WIFA XI lifting the trophy. Well played once again Steven!!!

If any WIFA association member is reading this, I would like to apologize on behalf of our community for disrupting the award ceremony. Yes some of our members posed with the players for group photo sessions even though the award ceremony was still going on, forcing the MC to time and again repeat or plead to the crowd. You’ll have to understand that to many Mizos, these players are heroes for winning the Santosh Trophy, and they just couldn’t control themselves being so close to their idols. Really sorry about that.

After the award ceremony, it was socializing time, as players and fans interacted with each other…

All in all, everybody had an awesome time. Ending the day’s event with a couple of comic strips :)

If you can’t read the above WhatsApp message, here’s an enlarged version…

So much fun indeed…

The next day, the Mizoram contingent was invited by their host at the ICE Award function, where they were felicitated.

Yup, that’s John Abraham in the pic above, who was a part of the function.

On their last night in Mumbai, I went over to their hotel to bid them goodbye. It was great meeting the players and looking at where they’re staying. According to Tetea, the entire team was staying separately, depending on the availability of rooms. So we moved around with this long list of names and room numbers across different floors, lolz.

I had a great conversation with Tetea, Maruata (Finance Secy) and TK-a (Treasurer) till 2 in the morning, talking about football, Mizoram and various other topics.

What I learnt from Tetea that night really surprised me…

So we all assumed Mizoram football team must have been sent (read: financed) by our state government or some semi-govt Sports Authority/Body. Actually, no! Mizoram or Maharashtra state had nothing to do with their travel. In fact, WIFA had nothing to do with it either. The only time WIFA was involved was arranging the match and playing with the team. Other than that, everything was organized by their sponsor called FEI (Freight Express International) Cargo Limited!

Curiosity got the better of me and I started googling. Now why would a private company spend so much money on this, without even promoting their brand anywhere. The only time I saw their logo was in the banner welcoming the Mizoram team at the airport.

Even if they were doing it to expand their business in the North East, it didn’t make any sense because they deal with Freight shipping and logistics, something that is ineffective in the North East with no coastal borders. And even if it was to promote their business, was it worth spending so much that would hardly yield any returns?

I mean, the money they spent was no trivial matter at all.

First of all, they paid for the flight tickets of all 30 members of the Mizoram squad from Aizawl to Mumbai and back. And then, they accommodated all of them at The Leela. MAN that’s the freaking Leela I’m talking about. One of the finest 5 star luxury hotels in Mumbai. When I was in my college basketball team and we traveled to a different city, we slept in the freaking college classrooms on top of the freaking hard wooden desks surrounded by mosquitoes. Even international teams do not get such royal treatment, that too especially for an exhibition match.

And yet here, our players had the time of their life, swimming in the gigantic swimming pool or tasting a part of luxury which is hard to come by again…

Not to mention their travel expense within Mumbai, including their food and drinks...

And hiring the Cooperage football stadium must have cost a lot of money too. On top of all that, Tetea told me they were gifted with a large amount of cash to further promote football in Mizoram!

Apparently, everything was because of this guy…

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Mr. Pratap Nair, Founder and Director of Marketing, FEI Cargo Ltd. Tetea told me that one fine day, he was reading the newspaper when he chanced upon a small section announcing that Mizoram had just won the Santosh Trophy. He was greatly interested after that. In fact it was he who was giving out the awards at the stadium (refer above photo with Steven Dias). I would have never guessed that all this was just a private affair!

Way to go, sir! He’s now trying to promote grassroot level football development in Maharashtra, in association with WIFA, and I’m sure with the amount of interest, vision and capital he has, it will surely succeed.

It got me more and more interested and I read up further.

I found out that his son Mr. Abhijeet Nair was also a director (Finance and HR) in the same company.

At that moment, I was like “Holy $hit” because he was the same guy I met at the airport while welcoming the team. We chatted for a while and even exchanged cards, but since his designation was not mentioned anywhere on the card, I just assumed he must be some lowly executive assigned with the task of welcoming the team.

Dayyyymmm, he’s the director and possible heir to a really affluent private company! Such humbleness indeed! Respect. And he has my business card! :D :D :D

But then as I read further and further, I discovered that he had lost his mother, Mrs. Shailaja Nair, and there is a whole website dedicated to her to serve as a memoriam. In fact, the ICE Awards where the Mizoram team was felicitated, was run by the “Shailaja Nair Foundation”. She used to actively take part in various NGO initiatives like Cheshire Home, CRY etc. What a truly noble family. My condolences, however late it may be.  

Here is a big thanks to Mr. Pratap Nair and family for bringing the Mizoram football team to Mumbai. May God bless you all.


Taia Pu said...

Good post. Detailed. But this line" to watch many international players (who will be representing various countries in this upcoming World Cup)'. (Y)

Rk Pachuau said...

Ngaihnawm hle mai.. wish there's more Pratap Nairs....

Joszef Ralte Kawlni said...

A va ngaihnawm ve le...I taima hle mai kima said...

I never, for once, do regret following the posts of Kima de Mizohican... Saptawng thiam si, thu thiam si... NGAISANG

Unknown said...

I va ziak ngaihnawm ve hei. Nair chhungkua pawh kan lo hmelhriat ve phah a. Kan facebook a ta lang hian blog te pawh hi keini ang ruang chuan kan ti hleithei ta lo a nih hi. A chhiar a nuam khawp mai.

Mizohican said...

@ Henry: It's kinda true :D

@ RK Pachuau: Ni chiah, a mah ang hi mi kan mamawh.

@ Joszef: Thank you thank you :)

@ Stephen Auhmun: Ti lawmawm hle e, keipawn i blog update te hi ka la follow reng e.

@ James: Thank you, nia hetiang ang mi ropui hi an inthup thei lutuk a, han ziah chhuah te pawh a nuam ve a sin.