Nagaland football team ahead of its first match against Arunachal Pradesh in Kohima on Monday Credit: EastMojo image

Kohima: North East Dr T Ao Trophy, one of the region’s biggest football events, kicked off in Kohima on Monday. However, it has not been long since the state’s infrastructure got a much-needed facelift.

Ahead of the first match between Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh at the ongoing North East Dr T Ao Trophy, Nagaland football team manager Colo Mero gave EastMojo an exclusive insight into the football scene in the state. “Team Nagaland is very excited. Out of over 30 players who played across the state and outside, 20 players [in total] were selected and these players will be playing throughout the tournament.”

“Team discipline has been outstanding right from day one of our camping which is a little new experience for many of the players. We are very firm with the discipline, and both the coach and I have enforced that and the training has been good. Here and there, we have some injuries but on a whole, we are very well prepared to face this tournament,” he added.

With the tournament being hosted after a gap of 10 years, Mero said: “This tournament has come back to Nagaland and it is really exciting for us and especially the players. They are very excited that in their time, this big tournament is coming back to our land.”

When asked about the developments after 10 years, he said: “I would say it is just a year or two back that we have starting this kind of facilities and so for the players to be able to play on such a ground, professional ground on a big stage is so important. We are very inspired and very encouraged by the encouragement, involvement, generosity and leadership of the current government who has taken importance and has taken this football to a higher level by giving top class facilities to our footballers– from dressing room to football field, hospitality and food training facilities. As a manager and an official from the NFA [Nagaland Football Association] if the state government would give this kind of support continuously and consistently we can hope for our state football to reach higher level at a very short span of time.”

On the present status of football in the state, Mero said: “Nagaland football, we have to start from basics. Only a few, a handful of players are playing in the I- League and at higher level. For the state as a whole, the IGS [Indira Gandhi Stadium] ground is the only astro-turf ground in Nagaland. Dr T Ao from Nagaland was the first Indian captain, and so to say that we have only one such ground is a little embarrassing.” In the present Nagaland team, skipper Khwetelhi Thopi, custodian Neithovilie Chaleu, and Hitova Ayemi and are the only national-level football players.

Mero, who is also the vice-president of the Nagaland Football Association, said: “We hope that the state government will give the footballers and the football fraternity more of such grounds. Given this kind of support and opportunity to the players, so much can happen in our state. Football talent is there. Even with raw talent, we have gone very far. So, given the right professional facilities, training and encouragement we can surely go very high.”

“I personally dream of Nagaland becoming a football state. We have potential for that, but for football to grow in Nagaland, we have to start from basics — players, football coaches, football referees, officials, the state government, sports department in particular, the football association, district level, state level, supporters, fans, the community, and the business establishments. Everyone of us are, in one way or the other stakeholders of football and being the most popular sports even in our state Nagaland, like in many other parts of the country, or the world, if all of us come together and give full support, possible support to football, all around development of football can happen and very soon, we can dream of making Nagaland a football state,” he said.

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