Darkness has just descended on the capital of Mizoram; the sun dipped beyond the peak that overlooks the playground in the heart of the picture-postcard hilltop city. But a group of youngsters are still playing, kicking up puffs of dust as they jostle for the ball in the hard, barren ground bereft of any grass from unrelented use. Some of the boys are in boots, most are playing barefoot. The youngest is barely five years old. Among the 20-odd players is Lalmuanpuia Hmar, Wesley to his friends, a Class X student of Aizawl High School. And the 15-year-old is all concentration as he shows off his control over the ball—dribbling, balancing it on his toes, knees and even his back. “He is very good,” says a fellow player. “One day, he will play for Mizoram and even India”. Wesley is modest about his skills. “I am just learning. But I have a dream…”
Football in Mizoram is all about this dream. And the uncompromising Mizo passion for the beautiful game has turned the tiny state in India’s Northeast into the soccer nerve centre in the country. It was only after Aizawl FC’s fairytale run the 2017 edition of the I-League that India took notice of Mizoram’s footballing genius. But for Mizos, it was the result of years of hard work and an unbelievably professional system of grooming talents that have started to show dividends. It is this dream and belief in themselves that have taken Mizoram to dizzying heights of success—the Santosh Trophy in 2014, National Games gold medal in 2015 besides victories in sub-junior, junior and the I-League. It’s what Lalnghinglova Hmar calls “Mizoram’s destiny”.