The Mugging of Indian Football’s Cinderella Story

In a less than stellar 2016, Leicester City’s miraculous triumph was a brilliant glimmer of hope for sports enthusiasts. To win a league title and consistently maintain the same level of excellence against laughable odds in arguably the most competetive league in the world is nothing less than miraculous and clearly destined to be one of those sports stories to be told for years to come.

Now just imagine if the EPL bosses called up Leicester City and told them, “Good job guys but could you please fuck off and get relegated for next season cause it will make us more money”. Unlikely , I hear ¬†you say?

Funny you say that because that is exactly what is happening to this season’s I-League champions Aizwal FC in India’s national league. For a side younger than most others among clubs with histories of more than a century, Aizawl triumphed despite a clear lack of stars both domestic and international because of defensive solidity and a coach determined to prove himself.

Based in India’s northeast state of Mizoram, Aizawl pulled off a massive surprise when they upstaged century-old powerhouses Mohun Bagan and East Bengal to win their first I-League title in only their second season in the top flight a feat practically unheard of across the footballing world.

Of late, with India’s national league ¬†visibly losing ground to the franchise-based India Super League (ISL), which is promoted by Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries, India’s national football association’s plan to ensure survival involves retaining all eight ISL teams and adding a handful from the I-League in a expanded league in a glitzy and commercially viable format. However Aizawl, a club with a modest budget and a passionate fan following, are unlikely to make the cut.

“Aizawl FC has submitted its formal claim to All India Football Federation(AIFF) to continue in the top league even after proposed merger of the existing top league with ISL,” the club said in a statement.

The club further added that they would approach the Prime Minister and the Asian Football Confederation if the club did not get a “positive response” from the AIFF.

“If all these steps fail, the club … will resort to worldwide protests, sitting demonstrations near AFC/FIFA offices, picketing of AIFF Office, mass hunger strike/fast unto death protests,” the club added.
If the footballing world with all its fractious rivalries needs to unite behind a common cause, it’s surely this one.