Morning Premier League team Kohima Raiders

Kohima: While most sports tournaments target the younger generation, there is a football association in Kohima organising a tournament exclusively for men above 30 years.

Enter Morning Premier League (MPL), a championship organised by the Morning Football Association (MFA) with an idea to promote ‘fitness and friendship’ through football. Currently, the fifth edition of MPL is underway in Kohima, the capital town of Nagaland.

While the uniqueness of the tournament is the age preference given to men above 30 years, another significant feature is that the matches are played early in the mornings, from 6 am to 8 am on all weekdays, one match a day.

Speaking with EastMojo, Loben Jamir, president of MFA, said, “In Nagaland, there are so many tournaments for young people, there are tournaments for older people too –veteran tournaments. But in the age group of 30-45 years, there are no tournaments.”

Jamir said he was 30 when he realised that men his age do not get any platform to play. “So with my friends, we thought why not give a platform to this age group to play because most Nagas are very interested in football — as a passion or hobby. Moreover, some professional players retire at 30 years and go for other professions, so I thought why not give a platform,” he added.

Talking about the early morning rise-up as an opportunity, he said that Nagas have become health conscious in the past five to seven years. Many are seen jogging on the streets alone, which prompted Jamir with the idea of organising a team-related work-out routine. This eventually gave birth to the idea of holding the tournament in the morning.

With the state’s first astro-turf pitch turning into a reality in Kohima recently, the last five matches of the tournament, of the 90 matches in the MPL series, is to be played at the newly-installed pitch. When asked why the whole event was not played in the new-pitch at IG stadium, he said that since the tournament is a “budget free”, the price of the ground becomes pricey. Moreover, “We prefer playing in this type of ground (referring to the unlevelled and muddy ground)”, Jamir added.

There are 10 teams with 21 members each who are currently playing for the MPL with each team playing twice against all other nine teams. This spells out to 90 matches in a single tournament for 18 weeks. While the MPL began on February 18, it is scheduled to conclude on June 20. The tournament offers certificates and trophies to winners but no cash prizes, unlike most tournaments, as the real prize is the friendship and good health.

L Alongba, vice president, MFA, said: “We follow the FIFA rules, but, we have unlimited substitution so that every player from each team can play in the tournament.” Highlighting the growth of the tournament, Alongba said, “At the beginning, we had only four teams, then two teams were included and then it became 10 teams. The interesting thing is the bottom two teams get relegated (eliminated) every season. So we don’t fight for cash prizes but we fight for the higher position where we won’t get relegated”.

The relegated teams are further replaced by two new teams who register under the MFA on a first-come-first basis. The performances of the new teams are then monitored during the MCC tourney which takes place in the winter season, where they (the new teams) try to qualify for the next MPL series.

Thirty-seven-year-old Wekulhi Lohe, the administrator of the All Blacks team, said: “The biggest challenge is especially getting out of your warm blanket.” But the amount of energy that he radiates from his fellow companions keeps him moving. He added: “It is a big challenge because most of us are fathers, we have children to drop to school. Truth be told, we really have to please our wives to come to play. But it becomes a habit.”

A Morning Premier League match in progress

Lohe, who is also an IT specialist under the department of urban development, said: “For us Nagas, it will be a dream come true if we actually play in the astro-turf pitch. Here in this ground, we don’t have much plan, we just come here and play and just be careful that we don’t get injured because our ground is such that it is not that levelled. We have many injuries along the years that we have played. That is one factor that needs to be looked into if football is to be promoted.”

Lohe’s team is the defending champion of the tournament. “We have lots of senior players. We play according to our strengths. We know how each of us play, so accordingly, we pass the ball to them. It is more about knowing each other well,” he added.

For first-timer Aruti Aier (32), it is totally worth the sacrifice to play in the morning as it keeps him health conscious and focused. Speaking about the warm nature of the game, Aier said: “All the players here are just playing to stay fit. There is no specific material or monetary gain and we all know it’s a friendly match. As we grow old, we mature, become cool and calm. If anyone makes a foul (in the process of the game), we acknowledge it and let it pass by.”

As for Atuzo Peseyie (33), what brings him back to football every morning is “the rush” and desire to compete with his fellows in the sport (football) so dear to him. Peseyie said :“Now, we cannot compete with the youngsters because we’re working men and we have our things to do. But the rush to come and compete with the counter parts keeps me moving.”

To him, the best thing about MPL is making new friends and developing relations. As most of the players are working, they provide professionals assistance to each other in times of need. Peseyie, who is also the assistant public relations officer (APRO) under information and public relations (IPR) department, said “It is about the motivation to play to play this game. Money is nowhere near the motivation that drives us. It is just fitness and the love for the game.” Both Aier and Peseyie play for the team ‘Kohima Raiders’.

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