An Untold Journey of Football

 "T Ao’s journey from Mokokchang to Mohun Bagan is a fascinating one and to be able to lead the Indian National Football team at a time when qualifying for the national team was but a distant dream – it’s nothing short of a miracle. And it was Guwahati which set the stage for the legend." 

By Vintage Assam

 

The contribution of the city of Guwahati towards Indian football is remarkable. It boasts of  legendary footballers like the captain of independent India’s first national football team, Dr. Talimeren Ao, former captain of Mohun Bagan and one of India's finest right backs - Sarat Das, Pilik Choudhury, Manoranjan Banerjee, Jiten Chowdhury, Nip Barua and Toshen Bora. The story of how football gained popularity in this riverine port city of Northeast India is one which needs to be told.

The story of football in Guwahati begins from the late 19th century when the Union Athletics club was established by a group of young men. It so happened that one day members of the club were playing football and volleyball in the north-eastern corner of the Judge’s field. Few British officers belonging to the European Club entered the field and ordered their ‘racially inferior’ counterparts to leave. Being miffed over the treatment meted out to them, the Union club members walked out in protest. Now desperate to play in a proper field they went to Manik Chandra Barooah for help. Latasil was then a pond and surrounding it was the old Chowk Bazaar. In the evening, the local sellers used to burn rose chestnut seeds and wait for their customers. Manik Barooah asked the sellers to shift to Uzaan Bazaar and soil from a nearby mound (where at present the Municipal Bazaar of Uzaan bazaar is situated) was brought to fill up the pond. It was formally inaugurated in the year 1899 and what was formerly a pond became the nerve centre of football in Assam. However, initially, things were not that easy. As told to us by the former goalkeeper of Maharana Club, Mr. Saukat Ali, dread locked ash-smeared sadhus (Aghoris) set up their tents in the Latasil field as well as in New Field and chased away people who came to play.

Dr. T Ao and Sarat Das

Despite facing difficulties, Animesh Ganguly, the famous sports organizer trained a group of talented young players in the New Field and occasionally in the Police Reserve Field when the Second World War was going on. New Field was previously a Hati Xaal, place where elephants owned by the Government were kept. A number of games featuring East Bengal and Mohun Bagaan were also played here. The New Field (presently owned by SAI) became the home ground for Maharana Athletics Club, one of the premier football clubs in the country credited with being the first to play a tournament outside the state in 1937. One of the finest discoveries of Animesh Ganguly was a lad named Talimeren Ao who went on to captain the national team at the 1948 Olympics in London, the only time the Indian Football team played at the Olympics.  T. Ao was reportedly offered a season’s contract by Arsenal, whose management offered to get the aspiring doctor admission into a medical school, but he politely refused. At the peak of his career, T Ao bid farewell to football and became a doctor. Ao's journey from Mokokchang to Mohun Bagan is a fascinating one and to be able to lead the Indian National Football team at a time when qualifying for the national team for someone from Northeast was but a distant dream – it is nothing short of a miracle. And it was Guwahati which set the stage for the legend.

The cover photograph is credited to Ankush Saikia 

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