We all love a great underdog story. Muhammad Ali did it in 1964, the USA ice hockey team did it in 1980, the Indian cricket team scripted its own success story by winning the World Cup in 1983 and Leicester City did it in 2016. Recently, Aizawl FC scripted history by becoming the only team from the Northeast to become I-League Champions.
It would come as a surprise to many that in 2016, Aizawl had been relegated to the second division after finishing eight. But luck was on their side, they were handed a lifeline by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) after a few clubs pulled out of the league.
The club also defeated last year’s champions Bengaluru FC twice in the Federation Cup and that played an important role in getting them back into the top division.
Aizawl works on a seasonal budget of almost ten times less than that of top clubs like Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC. In fact, Mohun Bagan had acquired the services of Haiti star Sony Norde for Rs 2 Cr, which is almost equal to Aizawl’s budget for an entire year.
For head coach Khalid Jamil, the championship marks the completion of the circle of life in the league — which began with getting sacked by Mumbai FC in 2016 and ending with winning the league with Aizawl FC in 2017.
‘This is my biggest victory ever. I always wanted to win the I-League. Every time at the start of the season, I used to tell myself that this year I should win it. I had to wait. And today we have won,’ said an ecstatic Jamil.
Things weren’t looking great when Lajong’s Dipanda Dicka scored the opening goal of the match. But during half-time, their manager issued a rallying cry in the dressing room which completely changed the outcome of the match.
Aizawl knew that they had to give it their all, which they did. William Lalnunfela scored the equaliser in the 67th minute, which ultimately resulted in Aizawl lifting the title.
Aizawl’s story reminds us all that there are never any shortcuts to success and also that you should never underestimate your opponent, a lesson that big clubs like Mohan Bagan and East Bengal will remember for a long time to come.