Also helps shed the rogue tag attached to it after the incident of violence in 2012

It may not be comparable to the high-profile events that invite the arc-lights in the world of professional football in Europe or in Latin America. But, what Mizoram attained by winning the Santosh Trophy on Sunday definitely has an epochal significance to it.

The title ended a prolonged wait for glory, bringing Mizoram on par with the traditional hotspots of football in the country like Bengal, Goa and its north-east neighbour, Manipur.

Mizoram, counting itself among one of the most passionate followers of the game in the country, claimed the title showing great application and dedication. Mizoram was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons barely two years ago.

The senior State football team found itself at the centre of a controversy for participating in one of the worst on-field violence in Santosh Trophy history.

The shame it brought upon itself with that incident in 2012 at Bhubaneswar, where the Mizoram players fought with their Tamil Nadu counterparts in a free-for-all and saw five red cards (three from Mizoram and two from TN), apparently put the State into deep introspection.

Watershed moment

Then came the watershed moment when Mizoram launched its first professionally designed league — the Mizoram Premier League (MPL) — a few months after the Santosh Trophy fiasco.

“We had the belief, but we were waiting for the breakthrough, which came on Sunday evening at Siliguri when we lifted the long-aspired Santosh Trophy,” the new and energetic Mizoram Football Association (MFA) secretary Lalnghinglova Hmar, told The Hindu from Aizawl. The rogue tag that got unofficially attached to Mizoram has been shed with it winning the National crown.

“It is a big achievement for us and a direct result of the efforts we put in by introducing the MPL two years ago,” Hmar said.

“The introduction of the MPL coincided with the Mizoram government instituting three artificial turfs in Aizawl and neighbouring Lunglei.

“That was the second big reason that has helped the growth of structured football,” said the MFA secretary, analysing the developments. The MFA also entered into a Rs. 1.25-crore deal with local cable TV giant Zonet making the MPL a widely supported event.

“For quite a few years, Mizoram have been doing well in age-group tournaments but the Santosh Trophy had been eluding them. It feels great now that we have made it a reality,” said team manager and MFA technical secretary Lalbiakzuala.

“I am sure this will inspire more success and we may also see a club from Mizoram making it to the I-League and winning it. I believe that in the coming years, we will dominate Indian football,” he added.

Mizoram won its first sub-junior (under-16) title at Aizawl in 2003 and the Santosh Trophy campaign has borne fruit after a decade-long pursuit.

“We needed the trophy to prove the intense passion for the sport in our State,” Mizoram coach H. Vanlalthlanga said, mirroring a great sense of achievement for the tiny North-Eastern state.

The stepping stone

“I believe this will be the stepping stone for Mizoram football. The boys really worked hard and I am also thankful to the fans. They were our 12th man in the final,” the coach said.

The fans added colour to the triumph, relentlessly chanting “Mizoram, Mizoram, Mizoram” to the clanging of cymbals and beats of drums till the final whistle.

“Once it was over, the crowd, replete with banners and posters, exploded onto the ground of the Kanchenjunga Stadium to congratulate their heroes.

“The scene in Mizoram, where people watched the match on TV, was much like the one when India won the (ICC) World Cup a few years ago. We will celebrate in a bigger way when the team returns home with the trophy on Wednesday,” Hmar said.

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