Job almost done, Aizawl cautiously prepares for Shillong party

What did Aizawl and the large cast of Aizawl FC do on the night they knocked Mohun Bagan off the top of the I-League ladder? If there are any imaginings of drunken celebrations across town with packs of chanting fans staggering down the road waving flags, think again.

This is Mizoram. They are not given to being outrageous in public. Except when playing football. Aizawl "expressed" themselves in every muscular tackle and eyeball to eyeball contest against their celebrated rivals. At the half-time whistle, Laldanmawia was virtually frog-marched off the field by his team-mates to avoid a confrontation with Sony Norde for having allegedly kicked him. Laldanmawia apparently had declared his intention at top volume to return the compliment.

Aizawl, relegated last year due to the AIFF's corporate-cash-protection rules before being reinstated, have become the champagne team of the season even before winning the title. No one's drinking any of the stuff though, as Robert Royte said everyone had held off on wild hi-jinks on Saturday night.

Royte had stepped out from his seat and waved at the swaying fans at the end of the Mohun Bagan game, but that was it. "No celebration yet as one very important match is still due."

Also see: Photos - Aizawl edge towards history in misty Mizoram

Head coach Khalid Jamil has given similar indications. In the middle of an unusually buoyant post-match de-brief, Jamil had called the victory "one of the biggest moments of my career and happiest days of my life."

As the reporters egged him on, he borrowed from the outside weather and poured cold water over everyone. "This is alright, there is one more match, Lajong is a good side, the players are in a good mood. But the next match is very tricky." He was asked about the planned jollity that evening and replied perplexed, "Kiya, na?" (we celebrated, didn't we?)

Jamil meant the general dressing room hubbub, which would have been full of laughing, hooting, dancing and a colourful oath or two. When it was done, the local players got on their bikes and went home. The outsiders - both overseas and mainlanders - went to their guest house.

On Sunday, the town fell silent. It was the Sabbath, the day of rest. Except for the players themselves: Aizawl headed out to practice under pelting rain in the afternoon.

It happened to be recovery work only, but of course there's 90 minutes against Lajong to get through next week and the extra hours in, manager Hmingthangsanga Zadeng said, would help. "It's a big big game and we have to be ready. It has been raining in Shillong."

At the final whistle, the bamboo barricades were done away with and the public on the far side were allowed onto the ground where their heroes had performed heroics that Aizawl would never forget. There are no public drinking holes in town, and stuff heavier than beer, rice or otherwise, is not served in restaurants.

Also see: Aizawl score one goal, move closer to the other

Only at the Aizawl Club, there have been last orders at around 930pm and a small extension given to the customary blackjack players to fuel themselves till about 11pm. From then it's ka lawm e (thank you) gentlemen, lights out.

The Aizawl "Hardcore" aka the club's fans didn't quite let it hang out either. Before they dispersed home, men and women got together and did the traditional Mizo "Chailam" or 'chai' dance, performed only on special occasions.

Small groups celebrated on the World Bank Road near the ground, a popular destination "to make your own party" but only when the rain allowed. Most of them are keeping their mania-powder dry. The title is not won yet, they remind you, and Zohera, one of the Hardcore, reminds you, they're saving their money to travel to Shillong next week.

Their leader, David Zohmangaiha, said there would be several meetings on how the fans must "prepare" for the next match: "We're just happy and overwhelmed right now."

Aizawl FC and its supporters couldn't have found a more appropriate man as the leader of their fan club. Zohmangaiha is the first Mizo man to climb Everest. He knows what it takes to reach the top of the world.

With inputs from Raymond Colney