It is a sunny day in Aizawl, Mizoram. A local tournament is underway in the Assam Rifles Ground, famously known as Lammual, set in the heart of the city. Lalnghinglova Hmar, the honorary secretary of Mizoram Football Association and an executive committee member of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), keenly observes a match from the sidelines.
While the World Cup draws to a close, football season in Mizoram has just begun with the MFA Super Cup, an open tournament where any registered football club can participate.
“The dream is to give them a platform to play, equal opportunities to everyone,” says Lalnghinglova Hmar, as we watch a third division team play against a club from the Mizoram Premier League, the state’s highest football league.
Tetea Hmar, as he is fondly called, is widely credited with revolutionising the game in Mizoram. Tetea, however, downplays his role. “I am lucky I arrived at the right time. Football, as it is in the ground, is a teamwork,” he says.
While his predecessors lost their way in the maze of football administration, Tetea seized the chance to turn football into a lucrative game.
Football has been popular in Mizoram since the 1980s. However, lack of funding, poor infrastructure, a dearth of good coaches, coupled with a poor league resulted in football being pursued as a hobby. The rot only went deeper.
“Back then, the biggest dream was to play football for a government-run football club, nothing else. Our knowledge was limited, we were not even aware that people got paid just to play football,” says Hmingsanga, a former Mizoram senior team player turned sports journalist.
Tetea saw a lot of Mizo youngsters taking up the game but they did not know how to turn their passion into a career. He wanted them to continue playing the beautiful game, but not just as a hobby.
But what does a history graduate from St.Edmund’s College in Shillong, with no proven track record in football know about the game?
“My dad was a Mizoram Police football coach and my life started with football,” he says. Right from his first day as the secretary of Mizoram Football, his goals were clear: Create a proper state league, build talent from the grassroots, acquire skilled players and promote them as best as possible.
Despite the difficulties due to lack of funds and resources, Tetea Hmar never held back; whatever the obstacles were.
When the Mizoram Premier League started in 2012, Tetea Hmar convinced Zonet Cable TV Pvt. Ltd to live telecast all the matches. He signed a five-year deal worth Rs. 1.25 crore, which was, at the time, one of the most lucrative sports deals in North East India.
“Rs. 25 lakh a year for sports in Mizoram is too much. But it is always worth the risk when he (Tetea) is around, ” says Vanneihtluanga, director of Zonet.
During MPL’s inaugural season, Lammual, with a capacity of around 10,000, was consistently packed to the brim. “We became the only local league in the country to sell broadcast rights,” says Tetea.
Lal Zarzova, sports editor for Vanglani, a leading newspaper in the state, says the leave revived local football. “That was the start of football revolution in Mizoram. Mr. Tetea, with the MPL, revived local football,” he says.
Mizoram’s chief minister Lal Thanhawla is also among the long list of his admirers. “He deserves a huge credit for the progress of the game in the state,” he says.
Today, Mizoram Premier League has become one of the best hunting grounds to scout local players for the top clubs in India.
“I have travelled around places in India and experienced local league. But, MPL is the best place, you unearthed your own talent,” says Chirag Tanna, general manager of Reliance Indian Limited, Sports and Integration and also the brain behind the Indian Super League. “How one man can do wonders,” he continued in reference to Tetea Hmar.
“He (Tetea) is one of the most important persons in my career,” says Jeje Lalpekhlua, who is the second highest paid Indian player after Sunil Chhetri.
After introducing the Mizoram Premier League, the state lifted the Santosh Trophy for the first time in its history. They also went on to win the gold medal in football at the National Games. While Aizawl FC went on to become the first northeastern state to win the country’s top-tier league, I-League.
Tete continues to tirelessly help young footballers, sometimes even letting them stay at his home.
“I’ve never looked for fame or money. All I have ever done is only for the love of football, for the love of my state, for the love of my people and I am happy some of them make it big.
“I once went to a small town in Mizoram and visited a place of my ex-player/student. His mother, with open arms, ran towards me and held me tight, with tears in her eyes she said, ‘We built this place because of you,’ looking at the three-storeyed building. Those are my greatest gifts. To put a smile on the face of someone,” he says.