IN THE FLOODLIT glow of Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium at Polo Ground, Shillong, Aizawl FC scripted history as they lifted their maiden I-League trophy.
This is the first time a team from North-East India has won the top division league title, the highest honour in Indian domestic football.
Aizawl FC, who started their journey back in 1983, have been a part of the recent boom for football in Mizoram backed by the state government.
Investment in grassroots development, promoting local tournaments from district level up to the professionalised Mizoram Premier League; it all contributed to the slow rise of Mizoram clubs from locally operating institutions to professional teams with national ambition.
In 2014-15, Aizawl FC won the 2nd Division League. Around the same time, Mizoram won the Santosh Trophy, and schools from the state did well in the Subroto Cup.
Aizawl had a rocky first season in I-League, playing mostly with local youngsters. They finished 8th out of 9 and were relegated. But subsequently they showed tremendous spirit in the Federation Cup, reaching the final. This performance earned them accolades around the country and AIFF brought them back to the I-League this season. They took on this challenging campaign with a new coach, Khalid Jamil, and a near perfect home record coupled with measured performance on the road resulted in a historic climax where they secured the league title with a draw against Shillong Lajong.
Thousands of Aizawl FC fans had traveled to the Meghalaya capital witness this historic moment. The Aizawl FC fans celebrated whole heartedly when the final whistle was blown. They took victory laps with flags of the club as the assembled crowd sang and chanted in unison in the players' honour. Many in the crowd had tears in their eyes.
The players received the I-League trophy as red and white confetti filled the air. The players and the coach Khalid Jamil took turns to hold up the trophy, and even the club officials including president Robert Royte joined in the celebrations.
The victory completes a cycle for Mizoram, during which they have emerged emphatically with hard work and grounds-up development and proven themselves to be the best in the country in every level of competitive football.
Aizawl FC, for the first time ever, are the Champions of India. And their victory belongs to all of Mizoram.