Today, the 20th of February, marks the Statehood day for two northeastern states, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. While Mizoram has over the years developed into a footballing factory for the Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League clubs, Arunachal Pradesh seems to have fallen by the wayside. In fact, they are still one of the three states in the region who do not have any representation in the top divisions of Indian club football, Nagaland and Tripura being the other two. It is quite ironic then that back in the 60s, it was an Arunachali who put the north east back on to the footballing map of India following on from others like Talimeren Ao. Often addressed as the ‘pathfinder of sports’ in Arunachal, this is the story of Chow Indrajit Namchoom.
Born in 1942 at a time when the entire country was in the midst of the independence struggle, Namchoom’s childhood was anything but easy. He went to study in Guwahati and later joined the prestigious Cotton College which is where he found his calling, football. During his three year stay there, he was a regular for the college team and participated in almost every local tournament. A natural athlete on the pitch, Namchoom was one of the stars in the side and it was a foregone conclusion that he had a bright future in the game. This eventually culminated in him playing in the Santosh Trophy, one of the most prestigious tournaments in the country back then which continues to be an important launchpad for youngsters even today.
The next chapter in his career saw him represent one of the best football clubs of that era, Guwahati Town Club, from 1960 to 1968. His performances earned him a call-up to the Indian team for the International Championships in Saigon and Malaysia in 1964. India’s performance in Saigon was underwhelming. The side lost against Burma (modern-day Myanmar) and drew against Malaysia and Vietnam, finishing 7th in a group of eight teams. However, the mastery of Namchoom was in full-flow and the striker was the only shining light for India with his assured footwork and characteristic burst of pace. He was also a great exponent of the ‘false nine’ role and would often drop deeper to initiate attacking moves.
After his retirement, Namchoom went on to become the first sportsperson to observe the role of Sports Minister in Arunachal Pradesh under then chief minister Gegong Apang. Recently, the Arunachal Pradesh Football Association (APFA) renamed the state's football league in his name in an attempt to honour his contribution to the sporting culture in the region. The APFA has also requested the Union Sports Ministry to name one of the 12 sanctioned stadiums in Namsai after the stalwart. For a state that has been starved of footballing heroes since, here's hoping that the Indrajit Namchoom Arunachal League presents budding talents in Arunachal an opportunity to groom themselves and rewrite history in the years to come.
(with inputs from Thehardtackle.com)