Northeast India has produced a lot of players who have gone on to represent the Indian national football team in the international stage. Stars such as Jeje, Udanta, Halicharan Narzary, Jackichand Singh and many more are the backbone of the Indian national football team along with Sunil Chhetri.
Northeast India is also known as the Northeastern region of India. Geographically, the region lays in the east side of West Bengal and comprises of eight states – Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland and Sikkim.
In the past, there was a time when West Bengal was the main production house of football players. More than tons of players have represented the national colour of the Indian football team who has plied their trade in the West Bengal state. At that time, the Indian football team was mostly dominated by the players who have played in West Bengal.
Well, in the presence of three of the biggest clubs in Indian football, Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan, it was normal that the majority of Indian football team players were from West Bengal.
Do you all know that India’s first football captain Talimeran Ao, he was in Kolkata to complete his medical degree and once he decided to play a bit of football in the fields of Kolkata, and such was his performance that he caught eyes of a Mohun Bagan football team official. From there his journey as a footballer began.
TFA Plays A Big Role
Players from Northeast India started to come through in the late ’90s, all thanks to the probably India’s best football academy, The Tata Football Academy (TFA) which was established in the year 1987. Many of the scouts and coaches of TFA went to Northeastern region of India to find players for the TFA, and whenever they find someone suitable, someone who caught their eyes gets an invitation for trials in Jamshedpur.
Current Indian football team winger Udanta Singh is a name who came through the TFA. “I was told from a very young age that the only way to make it big in football was to earn a successful trial at TFA and my uncle guided me through it when I turned 14” Udanta said when he was asked about his journey to reach the national team colours.
By now football in Northeast India has grown so much that, when the Indian team for the 2017 U17 World Cup (India’s first FIFA World Cup) was selected, nine of the complete 21 players were from Northeast India while eight of the nine was from Manipur and the other one was from Mizoram. The team’s captain Amarjit was also among one of the eight Manipur players.
Now let’s talk about clubs of Northeast India. Northeast United FC is a team that represents Assam’s Guwahati in the first tier league of Indian football, Indian Super League. The team was formed back in 2014 when the Indian Super League started. Though Northeast United FC has never won the Indian Super League, the team plays a big part in giving a platform to the Northeastern region players.
Next and probably the best team that represents Northeast India, Aizawl FC. Aizawl FC plays in the 2nd tier of Indian football, I-League. The club was formed back in 1984. In 2015, Aizawl FC won the I-League 2nd Division, thus earning the rights to get promoted to the I-League. They are the only Northeast club who has won the I-League, in the 2016-17 season under Khalid Jamil.
Next is a club based in Manipur’s Imphal, NEROCA FC. The club was founded back in 1965, now almost 55 years ago. They made their entry in the I-League 2nd Division in 2015-16 season and won the league in 2016-17 season to get promoted to the I-League. The club is the only club from Northeast India to reach the finals of the Durand Cup.
Just like Northeast United FC, Aizawl FC and NEROCA FC has also played a big role in developing Northeast India players.
Northeast Football Leagues
Next let’s talk about the some of the famous Northeastern league, first Manipur State League.
The Manipur State League or MSL started back in the year 2006 and it is managed by All Manipur Football Association. A total of 12 teams participate in the league. It is a six to eight-month long league.
Another famous Northeastern league is Mizoram Premier League. The league was founded eight years ago in 2012. Mizoram Football Association, the official football body of Mizoram conducts this league. The league’s most known and famous team and even most successful team is Aizawl FC.
Known Northeast Players
Now talking about footballers from Northeast India, then probably the most famous name is the current Indian team player Jeje Lalpekhlua also known as a Mizo Sniper. Jeje was born on 7th January 1991 in Mizoram. Talking about his club career, his current team is Chennaiyin FC and plays a forward.
Jeje has represented India U19, India U23 teams along with the senior Indian team. He has also played for the most famous Indian club Mohun Bagan and has also won I-League with them.
Another major name is Bengaluru FC and Indian national football team player Udanta Singh. Udanta was born on 14th June 1996 in Manipur and plays a winger for both the Indian football team and Bengaluru FC. He started off his career in TFA (Tata Football Academy) in 2010. He has represented India U19, India U23 and senior Indian football team.
And how can anyone forget Bhaichung Bhutia’s name. The Indian football team legend was born on 15th December in 1976 in Sikkim. He has played as a striker for the Indian national team and his clubs. Bhaichung Bhutia has played two of three legendary Kolkata clubs. In 1993 he joined East Bengal and played for two seasons, after that he had multiple stints with the Red and Gold brigade. He has also played for Mohun Bagan in two stints. And do you all know that his farewell match was against German giant FC Bayern Munich when he played his last match for the Indian football team. He has been rewarded with citizen awards like Padma Shri and Arjuna Award.
Well, football in the region of Northeast India is growing day by day. Northeast India is playing a big role in player development as a lot of players from Northeast India are now getting the opportunity to play in the top tier leagues of India.
Soon or later, Northeast India will be known for producing players who can represent the Indian national football team just like West Bengal. With the quality of players production from both Northeast India and West Bengal, the future of Indian football looks bright.