THE BLUE PILGRIMS PAID RESPECT TO one of the Indin football legends during the India vs Oman World Cup 2022 / Asian Cup 2023 Joint Qualfiers match at Guwahati, earning praise from football lovers around the country and now from that legend's family members.
The national team supporters' group took over the South East Stand of the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Sarusajai, Guwahati on Thursday night, where they had spent a long time setting up multiple banners and mosaic arrangements they day before.
The banners were all hand-painted by members of Blue Pilgrims over 3 weekends, taking over 32 hours of work. The Highlander Brigade, a fan group of NorthEast United FC, played a big role in the whole effort.
Their objective was to use this match as a platform to pay respect to the first captain of the national football team of independent India - Dr Talimeren Ao.
Dr Ao, who hailed from Nagaland, spent many years in the city that hosted this match, studying at the Guwahati Cotton Collenge (now Cotton University) before joining Mohun Bagan, making this particular match a fitting occasion to pay homage to Dr T Ao.
Just before kick-off, the Blue Pilgrims unveiled a banner depicting a picture of Dr Ao, 40 feet by 30 feet in size. Accompanying it was another banner displayed below; a 60 feet by 8 feet banner spelling out the words "The Revolutionary."
An accompanying mosaic of hundreds of white, black and blue placards were also held up simultaneously displaying the message "AO 1", a reference to him being the first captain of independent India.
Dr. Talimeran AO , was the first @IndianFootball captain of Independent India. Dr. Ao was a native of Nagaland(then Assam). A man who was the flag-bearer, the revolutionary, the one who stepped up to change it all. We paid tribute to a man that inspired a revolution. #AO1pic.twitter.com/khnveswkBm
The fans' effort not only drew praise from fans watching on TV around the country but also from the family of Dr Talimeren Ao himself.
His son Akok Tally, when contacted by TFG, said he was delighted to see his father's memory being honoured by the fans,
"It's just mind-boggling how Assam, and now, the Blue Pilgrims have honoured my father, Dr. T. Ao!! In his time, my father could have done his college in Shillong, Meghalaya. But then, the first captain of the country (1948 London Olympics) might not have been T. Ao. Guwahati Cotton College and Maharana Athletic Club provided the ideal stage from which T. Ao could launch himself to the dizzying heights of world-class Indian football. So, thank you, Assam, West Bengal and India."
A member of the Blue Pilgrims spoke to TFG about the idea behind the display, saying,
"Our style of showing support to the Indian national team is evolving. We are trying to connect better with the local fans in whichever part of India the Blue Tigers are playing. In order to achieve that, our banners, tifos and mosaics will often incorporate local sentiments and uphold traditions from the region where the match is being hosted."
Blue Pilgrims, founded in 2017, have been travelling with the national team to support them on all matches, home or away. The group which works as an alliance of all the major fan groups from across the country as well as of fans who don't have a local club to support, gained wide attention with their prominent presence at the AFC Asian Cup 2019, the King's Cup 2019 as well as the Intercontinental Cup 2018 and 2019.
The group is expected to flock to the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata next month when India host Bangladesh in their third match in the 2nd round of World Cup / Asian Cup joint qualifiers.