Straddled atop the misty hills of Manipur, Ukhrul continues to celebrate football in the midst of dust and rain. From the forefathers who brought home the game and the great-grandchildren who are now giving it back to the beautiful game, from 4-year-olds hugging the ball to 100-year-olds staying up for a match, football has so rightfully become the lingua-franca of the Tangkhuls.
In football, the fans are believed to be the 12th Man based on the impact they can have on the match and the players. So, how strong are we, Tangkhuls, as the 12th Man?
Being a fan could mean a lot of things- supporting the game, the club, the player (which is true for any sport). During the match, the fans’ cheering or jeering shows the intensity of the fan’s desire to see their team win or perform well. So, what am I trying to say? We all do this religiously? No?
Think with me. Have you noticed our football audience supporting their respective team with the same fierceness of a winning air even when the team is losing? Being a fan means seeing through thick and thin with the team, win or lose. But what do we see in our home match? Most of the time, the crowd goes silent when the air is tense and their team is losing. And before the 90 min whistle blows, the stadium becomes eerily empty except for the winning team’s fans.
Maybe, we do not want to see our team losing; maybe, we cannot bear to see the players torn and battered; but how selfish is that of the 12th man to think of his own emotions instead of thinking of the 11 other men who would need your support when they come off the pitch, beaten? Winning and losing, it’s just part of the game and that’s largely the job of the 12th man to remind the rest. Fans have to remember; we lose with the team or win with the team- there is no in between.
This is something we can learn from the CCpur fans who come out to support their team in uniforms and drums and cymbals. Even when their numbers are less, their cheering resounds. No matter if they are losing or winning, their cheering stays consistent- they have the best 12th men in Manipur. With fans such as that, who wouldn’t fight sweat and blood to win?
The Tangkhul Football Players Association organised the first ever Award Night to start acknowledging the football players, and to grow the football fraternity. With grassroots programmes being on the rise in the town, we can be sure that footballers will grow in thousands. So, the ball is now in our court- the fans! Are we ready to become the 12th man these dynamic players in the district deserves?
As we grow together as a football community, and as the football fraternity evolves professionally, alongside this, may we also learn how to be a fan first.