The Federation, as per its objectives in Vision 2047, has begun the process of maximising the International windows in order to give more international exposure to our players. The-aiff.com is currently present in Imphal to follow the progress of the Senior Men's National Team in the Hero Tri-Nation International Football Tournament.
AIFF Media Team
IMPHAL: The human mind ever longs for association, be it on an individual level, or as a group, or with an entire community. It is part of mankind’s daily struggle to put some meaning to it’s own existence.
If one were to see the way the state of Manipur has taken it upon itself to make the Senior Men’s Indian Football Team feel at home, then one could perhaps draw the conclusion that this existence is completely justified.
What one can see on the television, is how popular football is in Manipur. The first ever international football match held in the state on March 22 saw India defeat Myanmar in front of a full house at the Khuman Lampak Stadium. Even the match between Myanmar and the Kyrgyz Republic, which did not have any of the well-known faces that the Indian Football community knows so well, had an attendance of over 9,000.
The Blue Tigers, wherever they go, are followed by fans with their requests for autographs or selfies. It is generally the senior players who receive such requests. However, there are seven others, who have been showered with love by Manipur – the seven local boys, Chinglensana Singh, Jeakson Singh, Suresh Wangjam, Roshan Singh, Mohammad Yasir, Naorem Mahesh and Bipin Singh.
It was not just the regular fans, but stalwarts of the sporting ecosystem of Manipur themselves, who came down to meet the players. Chief Minister Mr N Biren Singh, who was himself a footballer back in his younger days, had come to meet the players ahead of the first match. Assistant Director, Youth Affairs and Sports, Mrs Laishangbam Anita Chanu, who had coached Olympic medallist weightlifter Mirabai Chanu back in the latter’s formative years, and former Senior Indian Women's Football Team assistant coach E Chaoba Devi also came visiting.
“It was such an honour to meet such personalities of Manipur. They all know that we are and came to show their love and support. It was a humbling experience to meet them,” said Roshan.
All the love from the people of Manipur, coupled with the fact that their respective families could watch them represent the country for the first time, in the Hero Tri-Nation International Football Tournament, made it an extra special moment for the seven players.
“It was a very happy moment for my entire family,” beamed Yasir. “They have seen me play in Imphal in the Hero I-League before, but never have they seen me play senior national team game from the stands. It gave me extra motivation to play well and dig deep to put in the effort.”
All the seven players have been a part of the Hero Indian Super League, and have not seen their families for around six months. Seeing the familiar faces, of course helped.
“I was really happy when we were travelling here from Kolkata. We were going home for the first time in six months,” said Chinglensana. “I also think that this current generation is quite lucky to get such an opportunity. Many former greats like Renedy Singh or Gouramangi Singh have done so much for the country during their playing days, but they have not had this privilege."
With all this love and attention, comes another side to the story – tickets. Tickets have been at a premium in Imphal, and the seven local players have had innumerable requests so far.
“It was crazy, how many requests we got from family, friends and acquaintances. They were all asking for tickets to the game, and all of us have tried to accommodate as many of their requests as we possibly could,” said Jeakson.
While another full house is expected in the upcoming match between the Kyrgyz Republic and India at the Khuman Lampak, Suresh hopes that this experience helps Manipur inspire more youngsters to excel in the sport.
“A lot of things could perhaps be better, but what these matches in Imphal have done is to show Manipur what it takes to host football at this level,” said Suresh. “Regardless of facilities, the state is producing top footballers in the country by the dozen, and if we do well, there will be many more to come.”