AIZAWL: Aizawl FC’s redemption is nothing less than a fairytale akin to the rise of the Phoenix from the ashes. The Mizo-outfit’s astounding run in this season has earned them many a supporter across the nation, let alone the state of Mizoram.
His Excellency Lt. General (Retd.) Nirbhay Sharma, Governor, Mizoram is an outright football connoisseur and doesn’t hold himself back from flaunting his support for the Reds. The eloquent person takes time out from his busy schedule for an interview with AIFF Media where he speaks on Mizoram’s football tourism, gender equality, Aizawl FC’s mettle to challenge the veterans and much more.
From the bottom of the table last season to vying for the title, how do you look up to Aizawl FC’s resurrection?
Aizawl FC have done something for which not only the state of Mizoram, but the entire North-east region feels proud. The club started in a small way and clung on to local talents to gradually grow big, and finally see this day. Their success has not only put the club on the National Football map but the entire state – rather the North-east region, back in the mainstream news. That’s the beauty of this sport; that’s the charm of Aizawl FC.
Before taking charge in 2015, I knew Mizoram minutely. But I had no idea that Mr. Robert Royte and his team were doing so many things just to promote the game of Football and hang on to local talents.
How closely do you connect yourself with Football and Aizawl FC?
Back in my younger days – when I didn’t have so many grey hair (chuckles), I was regular in all disciplines of sport, especially Football.
We had so many stars like Balaram, Chuni Goswami and many more. And as a country, we churned out good results quite often. 1960 Rome Olympics, 1962 Asian Games – those are the glorious past of Indian Football.
When I came here and was briefed about the whole procedure by Mr. Robert, I was awestruck and noticed a positive vibe in him and his team to serve Indian Football in the best possible way.
I’ve found that not only Aizawl FC club, but the whole of Mizoram has been contributing to Indian Football for quite a considerable time. Jeje, Daniel and others are representing our National Team, and others are coming up thick and fast as well.
Whatever Aizawl FC is doing, the whole country should take up the approach. Aizawl FC players aren’t hugely built or physically impressive, but are able to churn out results because of their athletic prowess and tactical acumen. This clearly underlines their strong knowledge of the game as well as proper football sense and skill. I personally feel that whether they win or lose the League, they’ve already hit the bull’s eye.
The Youth Generation is somewhat distracted by other aspects. Do you believe that Football can take them back on the right track and that Mizoram is actually doing the right thing?
See, one of the strengths of Mizoram is its vibrant civil society. We are a 1.3 billion strong country, and we have to believe that we have to take up some initiatives and not depend on the government every time.
We are a young country, and the lion’s share of our population belongs to the youth. Personally, I feel that Mizoram is punching well below its weight because the younger generation isn’t properly channelizing their acumen and prowess in the most productive ways.
Football is one vital aspect which can actually play the role of a catalyst to harness the talents. It’s not only about the sport – it’s about team spirit and nurturing of sportsman spirit.
As far as Aizawl FC and Mizoram Football Association are concerned, they have taken up it with aptness and they’ve set up an example for the rest to follow.
Football, the game, provides you not only with the skills, but a never-say-die attitude, sportsman spirit, mental robustness, physical prowess and much more. When a young kid goes back home after watching a football match, he goes on pondering over it even after hours.
Football is arguably more popular than Bollywood movies and sometimes even cricket. That’s why I strongly feel Aizawl FC are backing the right horse to harness the local talents, as well as producing a strong base for the youth.
Day in and Day out, we find many girls coming to the Stadium to cheer for Aizawl FC which is not very familiar in other parts of the country. What’s the magic behind it?
If you go around Aizawl, you’ll find more number of shops are managed by women. See, they’ve the freedom to go out and wear whatever dress they want. There’s absolutely no iota of bondage on the fairer sex in this state.
This is something which we should showcase to the entire country. In fact, to those states or cities which unfortunately, sometimes fail to protect girls from the incidents which shouldn’t take place in our society.
Can Mizoram Football emulate the heydays of Goa & Kolkata?
Mizoram is a small state but small is beautiful (smiles), because it can be managed with more proficiency. The fresh climate plays a tricky role in cultivating football talents. I would say we have peace here, in our state which is obsolete in most parts of our country. The people adhere to the laws and the rules, and are regimented in a way.
Unless Mizoram opens up its window, it cannot realize its potential. There should be a perfect blend of our own culture and the crème-de-la- crème of outsiders. Let others come and settle in here to make Mizoram a prosperous state. Be it football or in any other aspect, the best is yet to come for Mizoram.
Has Football opened up other aspects of life in Mizoram, say Tourism?
Definitely. During our last match against Mohun Bagan, all the hotels were sold out. So many people came down all the way to Aizawl just to witness the historic incident- it’s nothing but a perfect example of Football Tourism, which is not very familiar in India, unlike in Europe.
As I told you, the way Mizoram treats their womenfolk wasn’t known much to outsiders, until Football cropped up in our life and the media highlighted it. Mizoram is a gateway in the true sense of the term. The state has terrific potential.
Can we expect more corporate houses to invest in Football in the near future, emulating Mr. Robert Royte’s success?
It’s the uncanny truth of life that once I invest in something, I’ll expect returns from it. Putting in money isn’t a big deal for the corporate houses, but they must be recognised and acknowledged.
In a way or two, Aizawl FC are promoting not only themselves but the entire state. There’ll be big investments in the near future, but the authorities must shoulder a huge responsibility as well to recognise their efforts. Or else, their efforts will fall flat.
What’s yet to be delivered by other stakeholders of Indian Football to Aizawl FC and MFA?
We have known Mary Kom and many others once the Media highlighted them and provided them with the centre stage. I think they, mostly the Electronic Media, should come up with more purpose to put the limelight on Mizoram Football.
Our infrastructure and sports facilities are quite good. Other states, such as the Arunachal Pradesh Sports authorities, pay us visits to discuss certain ideas with us. We can definitely create International level facilities and NECS (Mr. Robert Royte’s company) are coming up with one pretty soon. In one way, Mizoram will continue to do whatever we can to the best of our abilities. But others have to promote it as well. It’s a mutual win-win situation for both the stakeholders.
Even after the subtle performance, Aizawl FC are yet to be put in the same bracket with Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Bengaluru FC. What’s your take on this?
Aizawl FC is already there, and they’ve already hit the right chord at the right time. Now, if someone denies putting them in the same bracket with these clubs, then they’re surely going to lose many a thing. Aizawl FC doesn’t need to go out with a begging bowl. Their performances and their credentials speak for themselves, and the whole nation is rightly backing them – some even calling them the ‘Leicester City of India’.
What’ll be your message to the Aizawl FC supporters?
It’s a catch – 22 situation actually. The supporters, wherever they are, will always come for their club. In our time, even I saw someone bleeding his entire month’s salary just to watch football matches (smiles). But you have to make sure that you’re sitting in the right gallery. Being a Mohun Bagan fan, if you land up at the East Bengal gallery, even God won’t be able to save you (laughs).
All that’s still left to be unearthed will happen in a matter of time, and I strongly feel that Aizawl FC’s redemption will open up a treasure chest.