At around 12 pm on Tuesday, Aizawl, the capital city of Mizoram was jam packed. Despite the peak traffic periods depending on morning and evening school and office hours, on this particular Tuesday, traffic moved slowly from the early afternoon. 

A slow traffic day could be expected when the Prime Minister or President of India would come to town on official business; but this time, it was an altogether different matter. It was the day of the finals of the Inter Village Football Tournament. The LBS Suzuki All Mizoram Inter Village Tournament saw participation from 204 teams representing local councils and village councils from 11 districts of the state. 

On the day of the final match, Lammual ground, where the match was played, was filled beyond its seating capability. While the match was supposed to start at 3 pm, the ground was already packed by 1 pm. The pathways, slopes surrounding the ground and even trees, were filled with people wanting to get a glimpse of the match. As thousands stood without cover, when a burst of rain started pouring a few minutes before the match started, the crowd stood still. Halfway through the match, the sky lit up and the sun blazed, scorching hot rays at the crowd, and even then, they stood still. 

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Lalhmangaiha Chhangte, a football enthusiast from Aizawl has watched many local tournaments over the years. In this year’s tournament, he watched five matches and believes the crowd gathered was unlike any he has seen before. 

“On the day of a match, I try to complete work at the office as soon as possible. For the final match on Tuesday, I left my office early and made it to the ground by 2 pm but we could not find a seat so I sat for three hours on top of a cement railing but I have no regrets, I really enjoyed the match,” he told EastMojo.   

Lalhmangaiha Chhangte sat on top of a cement railing for three hours, but has no regrets

While football tournaments have been organized in the state on previous occasions, this year’s tournament, which was organized after a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 outbreak, saw high peaks of enthusiasm. In addition to that, for the state of Mizoram, football as a sport is a tie that binds the community together and brings people of ages and professions together under one roof.  

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“This time, the overall atmosphere was high. I think one of the reasons is because of the pandemic. Because for two and half years there were no football matches. In December 2019, the Mizoram Premier League was organised, after that, there were no matches as the government did not permit any tournaments because of Covid19,” Lalnghinglova Hmar, the Honorary Secretary of the Mizoram Football Association told EastMojo.

Hmar is often credited with revolutionizing football in the state of Mizoram.  

“The people were excited because they have been held back for a long time. Secondly, there is a good social media participation which elevated the atmosphere. Social media as well as other different media forms’ participation and contribution is very high. I think these are the two main reasons…In other years there was a big crowd at the finals, but this year, there was a big crowd from the quarter finals and semi finals.” 

While the match was supposed to start at 3 pm, the ground was already packed by 1 pm

On the importance of football for the Mizos and how this spirit of competition passed on from the forefathers, he said, “Football has a big community participation. We cannot access all forms of the world’s entertainment but through football we get a chance to vent out. For example in the village, there are very few forms of entertainment. This is a sport where they can express themself. There is a large chance of community participation and as it is a simple game, everyone understands it including the older generations. Intervillage football is very big because we have a strong community feeling once it is ‘us against them,’ there is a different atmosphere. This kind of rivalry is present and there is a high competitive nature but that doesn’t mean there are negative events. From the time of our forefathers, the Mizos are a community where villages went to war with other villages. We do not do that anymore and there are no other platforms where different villages can compete now, other than sports. So it is the aim of everyone to win and be stronger than the next village.”

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Amidst the competition between players, the spirit of selflessness, which has long been a proud trait of the Mizos, shone through in the tournament. Many teams presented financial assistance to their opponent teams after they lost as a sign of goodwill. Electric Veng LC presented Rs. 5000 to Sialhawk VC, Ramhlun North LC gave Rs. 1000 to Sialhawk VC and Tuithiang LC handed over Rs. 2000 to Thenzawl West VC. In each of these cases, the presenters of the financial assistance were not the teams that won, but the teams that lost.

Hmar also expressed that the main aim of the tournament was to help the Mizoram youth make use of their football talents as a source of livelihood. Scouters and owners of I-league clubs were invited to scout talents from the pool of players, “Our biggest aim is to help the youth of Mizoram find a livelihood through football. And we are taking strong initiatives in this regard. The main reason we organized this tournament is to create a scouting opportunity.”

The pathways, slopes surrounding the ground and even trees, were filled with people wanting to get a glimpse of the match

Lalhmingliana Kawlni, one of the players of the tournament who represented team Thenzawl West Village Council said, “There is something special about being a player in an inter village tournament. It is a chance for us to represent our locality, our town. And people give even more priority to the local tournaments over the larger tournaments like Mizoram Premier League. Whether we played well or not, we have a feeling that we are a representative of our village. In olden times, the brave warriors of the village would go out to hunt and were respected and valued by the community. Playing for our village gives us that same feeling. Our forefathers were headhunters and we may not continue in that line but when we shoot a goal, we are achieving a feat of the same level for our people. It gives us a sense of patriotism.”

He also spoke on the impact of the tournament on and off the pitch, “There is a lot of impact the tournaments have on and off the pitch. We become close brothers with our fellow players and the connection follows off the pitch. Mizoram is a state that is ridden with drug addicted youth, organising local tournaments gives a chance not just to professional players but to local players to clean up and stay dry from the use of substance abuse.”

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