In landlocked Mizoram, aspiring footballers love being Mama’s boys – girls too.
Mama, in the Mizo language, means little boy or son. But for those sold on soccer in this north-eastern state bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar, Mama is a legend called Shylo Malsawmtluanga who now plays for the Kolkata-based I-League second division club, Southern Samity.
Mizoram has an army of footballers playing for top-rung clubs across India. None – frontrunners Jeje Lalpekhlua and Lalrindika Ralte included – enjoy the fan following as ‘Mama’ Shylo does.
“Legend? Nah! I just happen to be the first professional player from Mizoram to represent major clubs in the country and India,” Mama, 32, told HT from Kolkata.
The sporting icon
Mama’s professional journey began with East Bengal in 2002. It was a feat the Mizoram government found worthy of honouring a decade later, by naming a spectators’ gallery at the Assam Rifles football ground in Aizawl’s Dawrpui area after him.
In 2013, Mizoram sports minister and football fanatic Zodintluanga came up with the idea of saluting the state’s soccer stars. He had a stand at the Assam Rifles ground named after K Kawllianthanga, the first Mizo to represent India, in 1977.
Two others were named after Zomuathanga, the first Mizo to play for India at the school level in the 1980s, and Zohminga Zote, who played for Mizoram Police in the late 1980s and is now a deputy superintendent of police.
The fourth and last stand was named after Mama, currently India’s only active footballer to be thus honoured. Sachin Tendulkar (stand at Wankhede Stadium to mark his 10,000 ODI runs) achieved this feat in 2001 while Baichung Bhutia had a stadium (Namchi, Sikkim) named after him in 2011.
“In Mama’s case, it wasn’t about turning professional. It was about inspiring scores of young boys and girls to pursue football and dream big, beyond the limited scope the hills of Mizoram offers,” Lalnghinglova Hmar, secretary of Mizoram Football Association, said.
Among those who Mama inspired is 20-year-old Christopher Lalhruaitluanga. “I could not go far, but lived up to being one of his boys by leading a local team to a district level football trophy this year,” he said.
Christopher’s team happens to be from Chinga Veng, the locality in Aizawl where Mama owns a big house.
“Few perhaps know Mama by his real name. But young boys and girls are mad about him, children more so, maybe because he is so down-to-earth and fun to be with,” Robert R Royte, the owner of giant-killer Aizawl FC and Mama’s neighbour, said.
“I feel honoured, but I don’t think I deserve the adulation I get back home,” Mama said.
His fans disagree. They point to the ASEAN Cup (2003) and two National Football League titles the team he was in had won besides the Federation Cup, Durand Cup, Super Cup and IFA Shield.
With a few years of football left in him, Mama’s focus is now on six-year-old daughter April Lalruattluangi.
“She was born in April, the same month I got married (to Cindy Lalremruati),” he said.
April ensures spring throughout the year for Mama at home – just as he, for young and old alike in Mizoram, will continue to be the ‘little boy’ after he hangs his boots.