Chanmari vs Chawnpui: RFDL takes a Mizo rivalry to the national stage
Two local football clubs from Mizoram, which have united their villages like nothing else, are facing off in India’s largest U21 tournament.
The Reliance Foundation Developmental League (RFDL), India’s largest and most inclusive U-21 youth club football tournament, is rolling into the business end of its second season. ATK Mohun Bagan and the Reliance Foundation Young Champs (RFYC) team are the two teams who have qualified for the National Championship, while two spots are still up for grabs.
Among the 20 teams in the running for the final four spots, three are from Mizoram - Chanmari FC, Chawnpui FC and Ramthar Veng. The RFDL comprises teams across 9 regions in India from Hero Indian Super League, I-League divisions I&II and independent academies nominated by the state football associations. The success of its mission of inclusivity, however, can be seen from how majorly Mizoram features in the league.
Samuel Lawmsiamkima, one of the players of Chanmari FC currently playing in New Delhi, told The Bridge, “Playing in the RFDL for a hometown club is a great opportunity for me. I was playing outside the state before an injury interrupted my career. This season, I got the chance to turn out for Chanmari while staying at home. I hope this can be a pathway for me back into the top divisions.”
Chanmari and Chawnpui are both virtually out of reckoning to progress to the last four of the competition, but in letting their local rivalry play out in New Delhi, the RFDL has taken Mizoram football to the national stage.
“No minister has ever managed to unite Chanmari and Chawnpui as much as their football teams have. Inter-village rivalries have also been given birth to many fights. Here they don’t have guns and armoured cars, but they dream of taking revenge in the MPL next year, that is all they think about,” said Tetea Hmar, Mizoram’s best known football administrator.
Lalsangzuala Hmar, the coach of Chawnpui FC, added, “One thing that is clear in my team is that they do not want to lose to Chanmari. One reason may be that I used to be the Chanmari coach before this.”
It was Chanmari who enjoyed a 2-1 victory over Chawnpui earlier this week, however.
The Chanmari-Chawnpui rivalry has existed for a few decades now. Traditionally, apart from a few festivals and Christmas, local football has been the local Mizo community’s main form of entertainment since the 1970s.
But the local football ecosystem has been in trouble in recent years, prompted by several reasons, since the Covid pandemic.
“The craze of the Mizoram Premier League, which used to draw full stadiums before, has been declining. Matches have not been sold out in the past few years. Laptop streaming may be a reason,” said Tetea Hmar.
The Mizo National Front (MNF) government’s anti-liquor policy dealt further blows to the broadcasters. Amidst this financial crunch, Tata Trusts, which started a residential academy in April 2018 in Aizawl, shut down its operation in 2020.
In such troubled times, the RFDL brought a ray of hope to Mizoram football, offering their state’s clubs a sizeable representation in a nation-wide league.
On May 5, Friday, Chawnpui FC play their last match of the season, needing to win over Garhwal FC to overtake Chanmari FC in the Delhi group of the national group stages.
“As a small state in the furthest corner of the northeast, we have never had a partnership like the one we do with Reliance. It’s a seed we are sowing. There are now changes in planning level, very systematic planning. Yes football existed here earlier, but it was not the same in terms of organisation, match day facilities, professional management,” concluded Tetea.