The tiny state of Mizoram has produced a number of talented footballers over the years. The likes of Jeje Lalpekhlua, Lallianzuala Chhangte and Jerry Lalrinzuala amongst others have all made it to several top Indian Super League (ISL) clubs while some of them have also gone on to play in the national side. While the footballing potential of the state was never in doubt, what has accelerated the development of youngsters is the four-tier league system that the Mizoram Football Association (MFA) has introduced in the last decade, complemented by greater focus on school-level football.
Such is the popularity of the Mizoram Premier League (MPL) that all its matches are televised by a local channel. Since 2012, the MPL has been the perfect platform for youngsters to showcase their talent with many of them bagging bigger opportunities post their stint here. Below the MPL is the Mizoram First Division League, which is then followed by each of the eight districts having their own first, second and third divisions. Such an intricate league structure not only offers young players matches to play all-year round, it also caters to those living in remote areas who would have otherwise missed out. Moreover, the love that the people have for the game has meant that almost every village in the state has their own football ground as well as fiercely competitive tournaments.
All of this resulted in Mizoram winning the Santosh Trophy for the first time in their history in 2014 followed by the gold medal at the National Games a year later. Soon after, Aizawl FC came along and did the unthinkable, winning the I-League in 2016-17 in just their second full season at the erstwhile top division of Indian football. Post that, the MFA tied up with the Reliance Foundation Youth Sports (RFYS) to establish a robust structure at the school level.
By the time the second edition of the RFYS tournament came about in 2018, most of the issues that schools previously used to face concerning the availability of stadiums, volunteers and sponsorships were resolved. The teams also got a clear pathway, they could now progress to the zonal rounds before eventually making it to the RFYS National Finals in Mumbai. Women’s football also got a boost through the competition as more and more girls started participating in what was now a nationally recognised event. The success of Oinam Bembem Devi, who recently won the Arjuna Award, has also been a huge motivating factor for young Mizo girls to take up football. Coaches weren’t left behind either as more and more D-License certification courses were introduced in the state, leading to an increase in the number of certified local coaches.
With the north east being an indispensable asset when it comes to producing top footballers, the foundations for long-term success have been laid down well in Mizoram. Like Manipur, which boasted of multiple representatives in the U-17 India side that participated in the World Cup in 2017, Mizoram are now well on course to becoming the next big powerhouse in Indian football. One can only hope that other state federations take notice of the work that the MFA has done and adopt a similar approach towards improving their grassroots structure.