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Football frenzy grips Aizawl ahead of second I-League home game

Bhargab Sarmah | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:27 IST

A packed stadium greeted former I-League champions Bengaluru FC when they visited Aizawl on 16 January, in what was the latter's first ever home game in the country's top-flight football league.

The visitors won the game by a solitary goal in front of a partisan crowd, but it was a new chapter for football in the state, which has 42 active players in India's top-tier football league, the highest from any single state.

Aizawl FC's fortunes in the I-League are being followed very closely by the Mizos, and tickets for the next game against DSK Shivajians are already in very high demand.

The club lies at the bottom of the table at present, with two defeats from two games, but their brand of football has made quite a few observers stand up and take notice.

'Football means a lot for the people of Mizoram'

Aizawl FC. Photo: Facebook/Aizawl FC

Photo: Facebook/Aizawl FC

The state's rise in football over the years has been phenomenal. At the turn of the century, Mizoram was nowhere to be seen on the Indian football map. Things, however, have improved to such an extent that players from the state form a significant percentage of the total players in the top-flight.

Aizawl FC created history last season when they became the first club from the state to qualify for the I-League. The craze surrounding the club's games in the top-flight has been unprecedented this season.

In the opening game against Mohun Bagan in Kolkata, Aizawl FC fans filled up the away section at the Barasat Stadium. The home game against Bengaluru saw 80 per cent of the tickets being sold out four days before the game.

"Football means a lot for the people of Mizoram. Aizawl FC's qualification to the I-League was a historic moment for the state, not just for local football. I am sure other clubs here will see Aizawl's success and will be driven to try and reach that level," says Lalsangpuia Ngente, a sports writer at Inkhel.com, as well as an avid Aizawl FC fan.

"You should have been here (in Mizoram) when they sealed the qualification last season. We were all so excited! The first home game against Bengaluru showed how much people here love football. All the stands were filled to the brim. The atmosphere was amazing!" he adds.

DSK challenge awaits Aizawl

On Friday, 22 January, Aizawl FC will face off against fellow I-League newcomers DSK Shivajians, who are based in Pune. For Aizawl, it will be a chance to notch up their first ever win in the I-League.

The northeastern outfit was unlucky to have come out of the game against Bengaluru without a point, having created more chances than the visitors. They will hope to be more clinical against DSK.

"The brand of football displayed by the team has been very good in both the games, but at the end of the day, only the results will matter. That being said, I expect the club to finish somewhere in mid-table this season," Ngente says.

The core group of players at the club have little experience of I-League football. However, some of the senior figures were part of Mizoram's historic Santosh Trophy win in 2014. With the club having a proper pre-season, compared to the hastily-assembled DSK squad, the home side will be the favourites for the three points.

All roads lead to Mualpui

Aizawl FC fans vs Bengaluru. Photo: Twitter

Photo: Twitter

Come Friday, all roads will lead to the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in the city's Mualpui locality. The demand for tickets, unsurprisingly, hasn't dwindled following the first home game.

High ticket prices have irked some fans, but that hasn't dampened the enthusiasm in Aizawl. "Many fans are not very happy with the pricing. I personally feel more number of cheaper tickets should have been offered," Ngente laments.

However, with not many revenue streams open to I-League clubs due to an archaic financial structure in the league, it is not too difficult to see the club's decision to offer some tickets at high prices.

Whatever happens on Friday, one thing is for certain: the stands of the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium will be draped in red by thousands of Aizawl FC fans during the game.

First published: 21 January 2016, 9:00 IST
Bhargab Sarmah @BhargabSarmah

An avid fan of the beautiful game since his childhood, Bhargab has been writing about football in India for the last three years. He supports I-League club Shillong Lajong, as well as English giants Manchester United. Having recently graduated with a degree in commerce, he now writes about football and other sports at Catch.