Even as World Cup is reaching its decisive phase, the football fever has definitely gripped Manipur, a state known for its sporting prowess and an acknowledged powerhouse of Indian soccer.
With the world's biggest football show narrowing down to determining the top teams of this edition of the World Cup, Manipuri are talking football everywhere. Besides taking to the fields and clubs to emulate the World Cup, fans are even climbing trees to cheer on their teams.
They say football runs in the blood of every Manipuri. This is especially so during the FIFA World Cup. Almost every local club in town or away from town is keeping a close watch on the proceedings in Berlin. With the State Government ensuring uninterrupted power supply during World Cup matches despite the acute power shortage experienced by Manipur, delighted youth are devising ways to participate in the biggest football event that comes after every 4 years.
'Since we cannot afford to go to Berlin and watch the world cup, we thought why not project the matches on big screen so that we can at least enjoy and celebrate the world cup. So group of us got together and pooled in our pocket to hire the projector equipments on a daily basis to screen the matches. Despite the losses we thoroughly enjoy the games.' said Rambo Singh of Thau Club, Thangmeiband
As soon as the clock strikes 8:30, streets are empty with people preferring to stay glue to their TV sets. Thanks to the ingenuity of youths, most local clubs are enjoying the matches on big screen.
Besides the screening of matches, soccer crazy people of Manipur are outdoing each other in support for teams of their choice. The latest act in town is of a David Beckham fan's unique way of cheering for the English team.
Inspired by a garden lizard, Soraisam Surjit of Lairensajik, Lamsang, 16 years of age, mastered a unique way of scaling a tree. Initially, his attempt was to come down a tree like lizard, with head down. However after equaling the ways of the lizard, he was determined to outdo the reptile by going one up, climbing upside down.
After 6 years of putting his heart & soul, trees are a cat walk now. Although he has reserved displaying his skills till his cherished Guinness World Record attempt expected soon, today is an exception and is doing it to invoke fortunes for David Beckam and team.
Soraijam Surjit said 'I'm a crazy fan of David Beckam and the England team. England will surely be the Champion of this year's world cup. To seal England's victory, I will climb this tree upside down and come down head first to appease the Gods of fortune.'
Although it remains to be seen whether the Gods are moved with his determination, one thing is for sure, football is a burning passion in Manipur and it is not surprising that Manipur is a top powerhouse of Indian football. Indian professional football scene is dominated by players of Manipur.
Manipuri footballs are sought after for their speed, tackling skills and endurance. With football getting patronage of rich private companies, professional football is a reality and players from Manipur are cashing with payment ranging from 10 to 20 lakhs per annum.
Khangembam Ratan is a former member of the Indian National squad who played for the country in the world cup qualifying rounds. After playing for the likes Churchill brothers, Dempo, Mohammedan, East Bengal, he is now retired from professional football. 'There are players who get even 16 – 20 lakhs.
But on the average, a club footballer gets over 10 lakhs in a year. So this is great for the players from Manipur playing outside. Only sad thing is because of lack of facilities a professional team eludes Manipur.' revealed Khangembam Ratan who marshaled the Manipur Santosh team that won the trophy in 2002.
Realizing the talents available, the Asian Football Federation has initiated many camps to tap resources right from the grassroots. This is a women coaching camp and to the credit of Football Coach Joykumar, he has produced many profession footballers, goalkeepers and even referees. In the field of Women's football, this is from where 9 to 11 members of the Indian team come from.
In fact Manipur domination of Indian Women football is clear from the fact that out of 14 times, Manipur Women team has reigned Champion 12 times. And since 1995 till date the State has been the undisputed National Champs. Unfortunately, their achievements in the game have so far meant nothing unlike their men counter-parts.
S. Kumari, a former National Woman Footballer & currently an executive member of Asian Football Federation said despite the achievements, women footballers do not get any benefits other than the incentives given by the State. Monetary benefits continue to elude them.
Undeterred by the odds against them, a new horde of women players are making their mark purely out of the love of game.
Even in the field of men's football, despite the drain of talents from Manipur, Manipur's prospect of producing world class football is as bright as ever, according Football Coach Joy, 'Although the top-class footballers of Manipur are all playing outside, there is no dearth of talents in the grassroots.
Given the love for the sport and the ability, Manipur will definitely produce World Cup footballers very soon.'
* Bachaspatimayum Sunzu contributes regularly to E-pao.net
The writer can be reached at email@example.com
This article was webcasted on June 27th, 2006