Aizawl's Brandon Vanlalremdika all set for 'most important game'

Brandon Vanlalremdika, a devout Catholic will be skipping church on Saturday evening. There is a reason for his transgression.

The 23-year-old Aizawl FC striker will instead be competing against domestic football giants Mohun Bagan, in a match that could determine the fate of the I-League. In their penultimate fixture of the tournament, both teams are locked on 33 points at the top of the table.

And while Bagan have won the title before, the Mizoram-based club and Brandon are in unfamiliar ground.

"The coming match is one of the most important games I have ever encountered in my football career. We have a chance to prove ourselves to the fans of football in India. That despite Mizoram being a small state we can still win the I-League. That will be big for us," he says.

It is big for everyone in the city. Indeed, it appears that there's only one thing on everyone's mind - the game on Saturday.

"Everybody in Aizawl is talking of this coming match," says Brandon, who has been one of Aizawl's standout performers with three goals and three assists this season.

"We know they have very high expectations. Even when I go to a restaurant, it's normal to hear people talking about the match. They won't give me advice on how to play but they will talk about the match. They wish me good luck. They say 'Win the title'."

Brandon's family is staying more circumspect simply because they know the pressure he is under.

"At home they know that this is a big chance for me. They try to stay positive around me. They constantly encourage me. When I return from practice they'll tell me don't feel discouraged. They make sure I'm eating well.

"Despite that, we in the team are staying pretty calm. We are not thinking of this game even though it is a big one. We are trying to take it as a normal game. We hope that by god's grace everything works out well."

Brandon says he has been in a similar situation before when Mizoram were contesting for the National Games gold in 2015 but the stakes are a lot higher now. Having had a hard scrabble childhood, Brandon knows what being part of an I-League winning team can do for his professional footballing career.

"The match is very important for my future. My parents divorced when I was seven and my mother (Judy) has raised me ever since. She has struggled a lot for my family. I have two brothers and a sister and she has done all she can for us. We have shifted across many homes before we settled in Aizawl. I really want to make her happy and provide worldly things for her too. This match could help me do that."

Brandon wants to make use of whatever edge he can get which is why he isn't planning on missing church all together.

"I'll go to church the evening before the match. Holy family church is just about three minutes walk from my home so I don't have to travel too much," he says.

The Holy Family Church in Hunthar isn't isolated from football altogether, though.

"Sometimes it is a little bit strange when I go to the church. I'll just be there to pray but some of the older men will come up to me and grab my hand and tell me I need to play well."

On the day of the match, Brandon says he will try to go about his day as he always would.

"I have some time to prepare for the match because it is in the afternoon. In the morning I'll wake up and go around the neighbourhood and talk to people," he says. His friends might consider themselves footballing experts but they usually reserve their advice ahead of a big game.

"Usually my friends will make me laugh and that helps me to calm myself. Sometime back they imitated the way I reacted to the referee after I fouled Alwyn George against Bengaluru FC. That really made me laugh. I've always prepared for a match this way. I need to stay calm before a match."

Eventually though, he will have to make his way to the Rajiv Gandhi stadium, which is a 45-minute drive away.

"I usually just bike down to the stadium. There's just too much of a crowd if I take a four wheeler otherwise. It's going to be even more crowded on Saturday because of the match," he says.

While the whole stadium will be rooting for him, Brandon will be looking for a particular face in the crowd.

"My mother isn't always able to come to my matches but I have asked her to come for this one," he says. A few other family members have wheedled out tickets for him, too. His friends haven't been as lucky though.

"I've been able to get tickets for my mother and some of my cousins but I haven't been able to get any for my friends. Some of my friends are very upset with me but what can I do, there's just no tickets available."