The homecoming of Aizawl FC on 1 May was just the beginning of victory celebrations in the capital of Mizoram.
After making history as the first Northeastern I-League champions, AFC received a warm welcome at home on Monday, with the government announcing a half-day so that residents could join in the celebrations.
The victory parade started from Lengui Airport and marched till Lammual, where the Mizoram Football Association had organised a function for the champions.
Mizoram had won the 2014 Santosh Trophy and 2015 National Games Football, however Aizawl FC’s I-League feat is a dream that came sooner than expected.
When a dream becomes reality, then even words cannot define the moment the way the crowds can. Even though the hardcore supporters who witnessed I-League grand finale live did not reach Aizawl in time, the champions of India got a hero’s welcome from a fully packed Mizo crowd.
When Alfred was suspended for the I-League final match, Mizo defender Zohmingliana Ralte wore the captains armband against his former club Shillong Lajong. The defender who scored a winning goal against Mohun Bagan said:
I used to dream of a day like this, and now it happens. It is so unreal; I was still pinching myself last night to check whether it’s real or not. And if it’s only a dream, I didn’t want to wake up from this.
Jayesh Rane one of the key members of the squad said:
I have won Indian Super League with Chennaiyin FC, but couldn’t have a grand celebration then because of the flood. This one is special, it looks like a festival. Everyone is enjoying it.
Captain Alfred Kemah Jaryan said:
This is the best thing that has happened in my career.
Hired by the club right before the start of the season, coach Khalid Jamil was a very important factor that led to Aizawl FC's win.
Aizawl FC were relegated after finishing eight last season, but included in the league after some big teams pulled out before the start of the tournament.
The man behind the success of football in the state, Mizoram Football Association honorary secretary Lalnghinglova Hmar made a wonderful speech.
To God be the glory. Mizoram are the champions of India. In 2014, Mizoram won Santosh Trophy, then won gold medal at the National Games a year later. Now, Aizawl FC have won the I-League and it’s an unbelievable achievement. But we should not stop here. We are here because the whole Mizoram works together — to maintain our level or to reach further, we need to stick together,” said Hmar as he tried to hold back tears.
Wearing a 2014 Santosh Trophy and 2015 National Games champions jersey, he removed his jersey to show his Aizawl FC home colour which read ‘Champions of India’.
As the sun went down and the floodlights came on, the crowds put their cell phone flashlights on and raised their hands above the head.