Imagine an old town with pretty communities brimming with historic charm and scenic beauty; rolling hills, rivers, churches, rice paddies, small cafes, football fields on the outskirts of the city with beautiful seasonal flowers and fruits that can be found all year round; everyone knows everyone in one way or another, and different communities have their personalities, backstories and ways of doing things, but share the same passion for the wonderful game – football. And you will be here, with Lamka.
In times when communities are divided into bitterness and strife and chaos erupts for vague causes. When the streets are overflowing with alcoholics, addicts, the unemployed and hypocrites for people who beg, get high, steal and sell. When people are lost – in deeper confusion, insecurities and discouraged without vision and hope. This small town desperately needs light somewhere along the tunnel.
The unique unifying power of sport and the community’s loyalty to football, in particular, empowers us all and brings people closer together, creating hope where there was only despair. Football has always been followed fervently here in Lamka, a border town and headquarters of the Southern Hill District – also known as Churachandpur in Manipur. At the time when Doordarshan was broadcasting World Cup matches, television entered a few privileged homes in this small town. The love affair with World Cup football or the Olympics was huge during the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s. If you question the generation that belongs to this era, they would often become nostalgic when they think back to the way where football matches in those glory days were watched – together. Not everyone could afford a television and the whole village raided the house whose owner was kind enough to let everyone watch. The locals loved the game and the enthusiasm with which Pele and Maradona’s magical feet were brought to Zidane, Ronaldo and Beckham has captivated them with their crafts and became the talk of the town.
There was a sense of belonging in all this craziness and unity that flowed through the nooks and crannies of the hills. Football is in their blood – the only thing besides religion that has so deeply affected the people of this region. It has the power to attract and engage young people, and keep them away from drugs and crime, which is unparalleled. For example, throw a soccer ball in a community and you have children and young people who gravitate towards the ball. It’s amazing how a game of football can bring everyone together as one. The game’s role in empowering today’s youth is remarkably instrumental; the most effective and endless process of character education programs. This city has produced a few football players at the national level; Khanthang Paite, Siam Hanghal, David Ngaihte and Sebastian Zou among others, all of whom have made it to various top I-league and Indian Super League (ISL) clubs, while some have gone on to play for various football clubs and academies in the country.
While the history of football in Lamka may not go back that far, for an otherwise underdeveloped city it is a breeding ground for football talent. However, without resources and long lasting good competitive structure here, majority of children are forced to stop dreaming and start living a life of non-complaining hardship after a certain age and this is the real tragedy of the place; talent and potential eventually end in drinking sessions in small dingy huts; in cynicism and ridicule. A tale of an old working class town overshadowed by the lack of sports facilities due to the boundless sheer wondrous talents this place has to offer; only the lucky ones make it while there are a handful that don’t find the breakthrough and transition – well within reach but too slippery to catch.
Life is a series of ever-changing plots to which we must constantly adapt. However, there is one constant that buzzed like the soothing sound of raindrops falling on a tin roof; the famous Lamka Football Ground in the heart of the city. A soccer field with a towering cross in the background amid the scenic hills and the mid-autumn sky changing from orange to a hundred shades of pink to dark navy blue. Like all hilly areas in the northeast, this is how a football field looks, feels and behaves around the slopes. Subtropical monsoon showers and regular rainfall throughout the rest of the year make it difficult to maintain or control the pitch, and worse, it doesn’t even provide a reasonable playing surface. People who otherwise have little in common have gathered here, as fans and as players, putting those differences aside for the sake of their teams. Ninety minutes of people of all classes and ages coming together to watch as they cheer their home team to victory.
Our so-called leaders have also continued to use football as a means of reopening diplomatic dialogue and conducting political campaigns by organizing tournaments from time to time. As elsewhere in northeastern India, the locals in Lamka love the game, and the enthusiasm brought to the dusty football pitch by a variety of players from different villages and places had captivated them with their crafts for years and years. ; helping us realize that we share much more than what divides us. Over the years, Lamka Football Ground has hosted some of the most prestigious tournaments and provides platforms for new talent.
Churachandpur District Sports Association (CDSA), the district governing body of football has a four-tier league system with the (L) Lianboi Simte Memorial Super Division at the top, followed by the first, second and third division respectively. The Hmar Martyrs’ Trophy, Seikam Memorial Tournament and Raja Goukhothang Guite Football Memoriam are other fiercely competitive tournaments in the city. While some notable clubs such as the Leatherites and Zomi Football Club fail to last long term after having their fair share of glory, some of the currently active football clubs in the city (Lamka Sports Club, Ganggam Soccer Club, New Lamka Youth Club, Lenlai Club, Zenhang Lamka Youth Club, Bungmual Youth Club, Symropia Football Club and United Khawzim Brothers) are vying for a chance to represent the district at the State League (top-level football tournament in Manipur ) Winners’ Cup and CC Meet.
With the city’s football scenario showing promising growth and an increase in its fan base, it would have been pointless if there was no regular supply of talented youth and an influx of football academies locally; the Happy Feet, Shepherds, NYFS, PLL, Vision and more have been a steadfast presence on the ground in recent years; cheers to the highly qualified coaches and dedicated individuals focused on the development of grassroots football – the pioneers for producing the best talent in town.
One is the Lamka Sports Club (LSC) academy, which previously cooperated with NHPC Loktak Project for a year, but is now self-sufficient. The Hiangtam Lamka based outfit; one of the oldest, most consistent and decorated football clubs in Lamka, dating back to the early 1970s, has encouraged local boys to develop their football skills and talents under the skilled and watchful eyes of its staff; providing state-of-the-art training facilities, free of charge. “It is more blessed to give than to receive, and dignity and honor in selfless service had its satisfaction,” exclaims Siasiam; a legend of the game, now part of the coaching staff at LSC with his colleague, Gogou.
The duo posed a huge offensive threat throughout their playing careers, waltzing along defense lines with ease – one the provider and the other the finishing touch. Siasiam was the epitome of a midfield general equipped with extraordinary technical prowess and his ability to deliver accurate passes to open the defense was comparable to that of Xavi in contemporary football. In contrast, Gogou was a quintessential No. 9 with his speed, intelligence and poaching instincts, making him one of the greatest goalscorers in his heyday. Their reign may not have lasted as long as they wished, however, but the duo’s contribution is deeply rooted in the club’s history. Even now, long after their playing days, the pair happens to run in the same circles, with both taking on coaching roles at their much-loved Lamka Sports Club. They have retained a fondness for their roots and have retired to help their youth club, giving back their football knowledge to the football ground from which they came – teaching the next generation early what they have learned later.
“I love to play a little game with my friends before and after school,” said Lalal, a six-year-old boy who had just started playing football at his club in his hometown. Lalal, who lives in the residential blocks next door, is a die-hard fan of LSC and dreams of one day playing green and yellow for the old classic. Dreams become reality; but in this tiny football town where luck precedes opportunity, only those willing to face the unknown will see their dreams blossom.
H. Luaisangmuan is a football enthusiast, independent researcher and content writer from Delhi.
Muanvanglian Tonsing is a football enthusiast and is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in physical education and sports science (soccer) at LNIPE, Gwalior.
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