Situated on the fringes of India's northeastern region, the state of Manipur is known for its scenic beauty.
It, however, has a long history of violence and political unrest. But despite the instablity, football has flourished in the region, and the local state team have been going from strength to strength, promoting a sense of togetherness throughout Manipur.
Starting with the Second World War, Manipur has been in the midst of many battles and violent movements.
The Allies' victory over Japanese forces in Manipur helped turn the tide in the former's favour. As a new beginning dawned on Manipur following independence from British rule, fate dealt a cruel blow to the state. In 1949, two years after India gained independence, Manipur was controversially annexed with the South Indian nation.
This provocative act would result in the formation of several separatist groups within Manipur, with demands for the formation of a separate sovereign republic. Initially, as the central government responded with a rather indifferent attitude towards the state, the Manipuri economy remained stagnant for years. However, with several separatist movements gaining strength in the state, the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act was introduced in Manipur.
In recent years though, there has been an improvement in the political situation, with many rebel groups holding talks with the government.
Despite facing so much hardship over the years, football in the state has continued to grow over the years. This growth can be attributed to the love for the beautiful game among Manipuris. Over the years, Manipur’s football industry has gifted India’s national team with legendary footballers like Renedy Singh and Surkumar Singh.
In 2002-03, Manipur’s state team won the national championship, popularly known as the Santosh Trophy, for the first time in its history, beating South Indian state Kerala 2-1 in the final. In recent times, Manipuri footballers have become a regular feature in almost every Indian top-division club.
However, due to the absence of a top-division club in the state, Manipur still faces the same problem many leagues face - that of an exodus of footballers to bigger and better divisions - in this case, to other Indian states. With the initiation of a professional football league in Manipur, this problem may finally be laid to rest.
In a state where the facilities for footballers aren’t known to be the best, Manipur’s rise in the game is indeed quite surprising. Despite the violence and divisions, Manipur has continued to excel in the beautiful game. With peace finally promising to return to the state in the near future, the state can only hope and dream for better.
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