THE SENSE OF ANTICIPATION is palpable as one walks the roads of Aizawl.
At the face of it, the day seems to be undergoing business as usual, but a close look at any corner of the road or tea shop reveals the underlying excitement.
Aizawl FC, the only club from Mizoram to ever reach the top division, has seen a meteoric rise in its stature over the past 12 months. After falling to relegation in their debut I-League season, they made an immediate comeback in the Federation Cup and went all the way to the final. And this season, brought back to the top division by unanimous decision from AIFF, they took the I-League by storm. Right now, with just 2 matches left in their league campaign, they are facing Mohun Bagan in a season-defining title clash.
There's obviously a lot on the line here. For the first time a club from North-East India has come this close to the league title. Even Royal Wahingdoh in their dream season under Santosh Kashyap only managed to reach the third place. For Mizoram football, which has risen to the top in Indian football in almost every department other than the first division, winning the league will signal the completion of an arc; the state which produces a high number of players in the professional circuit across division and is well represented in the national team will finally be acknowledged as a powerhouse in club football with a team from their own soil carrying their flag.
But more than anything else, football lovers in Mizoram see this match as a culmination of an epic journey. It's a journey that has taken decades, starting from small localities, sowing the seeds of growth that over the years grew into a robust football culture of exemplary nature to the rest of the country.
Aizawl FC, as we know it today, is a product of that journey undertaken by thousands of sports enthusiasts across the state. And the club, when it reached the top division after a long journey of its own, met with some unforeseen favourable circumstances a few months ago. The stars aligned, and the stage was set for an astonishing league campaign that captured the imagination of football lovers in India and aborad.
Here, we take a look at some of the main factors that built Aizawl FC up to the verge of success they stand at today.