This is the first-of-its-kind football exhibition in Imphal Credit: EastMojo image

Imphal: It is not often that veteran footballers get to play together, let alone getting to play on curated pitches. This explains why there was much joy among senior footballers from Hungpung village of Ukhrul district when they got to play a game on the AstroTurf at Khuman Lampak in Imphal.

For many, this was one of a first-ever experience kicking the ball on a smooth, and well-maintain artificial football pitch.

Most football players from these regions during the 1970s and 1980s had limited options when it came to choosing a career in sports. But despite a lack of facilities, many managed to play at various clubs and organisations and participated at various state and national-level tournaments.

Speaking with EastMojo, 58-year-old Hungbumngam Zimik, a former NEROCA FC player, recalled his youth, and how he became passionate for football from an early age.

“I started playing at the village tournament from under-5 onwards and went on to play at various district-level and state tournaments before retiring in 1994,” said Zimik.

Zimik, who was among the many veteran players from Hungpung village, went on to play at the national level, representing team Manipur. In 1984, he featured in the famous Subroto Cup in New Delhi playing for NEROCA FC.

Veterans used to play on rough surfaces during those days

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Veteran football player YL Crawford from Hungpung village

“Right after my 10th exam, I joined NEROCA FC and stayed there for almost ten years. I had also got an opportunity to play at the All India School Championship twice, representing Manipur,” said Zimik.

Talking about the one-day exhibition at Khuman Lampak AstroTurf ground, Zimik informed, “We actually planned on playing this friendly match in our village, but due to COVID-19 restrictions and lack of proper ground, we decided to come down to Imphal and have the exhibition match here. Moreover, in our days we played football on playgrounds full of mud or dust due to lack of proper facilities. So, getting an opportunity to play at such well-maintained AstroTurf ground is a lifetime experience for all of us.”

YL Crawford, 70, who played professional football for 18 years, concurred with Zimik. “The game has changed drastically compared with our days. During our time, we played football with strength, but now, it requires good technique to play the game. It is like playing carom,” said Crawford who used to play at the Manipur Statehood Day and various other tournaments.

Reminiscing the golden days, the veteran player further expressed that they could now no longer perform the way they want to play due to their age factor.

“We are not young anymore, and we don’t have the stamina to play. I am even scared of kicking the ball now,” he added.

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