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The first football hero of India

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On 31st July 1948, Talimeren Ao led Indian football played a match in London Olympics against France. He brought fame and glory to the Indian contingent after their remarkable performance at the this match under his Captaincy. Even after losing the match to France, India became British media’s favourite in the Olympics. Talimeren Ao, the captain of India, with his witty reply to the press about playing barefoot because its football and not bootball amused the British audiences.

Talimeren Ao was born in the Chongki Village of Naga Hills district of the undivided Assam, present Nagaland, on 28 January 1918. He belonged to the Ao community of Naga tribes and undoubtedly was one of the notable and popular Naga.

  1. Ao was always inclined towards football and athletics. As a child he would make balls out of tightly bound rags and use citrus fruits like pamelo during fruiting season as footballs. But his first introduction to proper football happened in Jorhat when he joined Jorhat Mission School for studies. The teachers at the school identified his talent and he started playing as a striker at local matches.

Later he went to Guwahati to pursue higher education in science from Cotton College. There he got the opportunity to join the Maharana football club, the largest football club of Assam. His outstanding skills and laudable sportsmanship was appreciated by everyone.

But Talimeren Ao’s father always wished him to become a doctor and serve the people of the country. He respected this wish of his father and went to Carmichael Medical College to obtain a degree in MBBS. In Kolkata one of his friend from Maharana football club, Surat Das was already playing for the Mohan Bagan football club. He enrolled himself in Mohan Bagan Football club and started playing as a mid-fielder and defender in the matches. He soon became the captain of Mohan Bagan club. People in Bengal loved and respected him for his down to earth and humble nature. His fans and other players would lovingly call him Ao da. T. Ao’s athletic stature and commendable skills led to his induction the National Football Team where he became a captain too.

After taking a year of sabbatical for London Olympics, T.Ao did get his MBBS degree in the year 1950, two years after the London Olympics. He was the first Naga to become a doctor and the first Naga Director of health services after Nagaland attained its statehood in 1963.

Even while serving his duties towards the people of Nagaland he would take keen interest in football; encourage young talent and organised medical football teams. He was made a member of All India football selection committee from 1968-1969 and was also member of All India sports council and Nagaland sports council. . The government of Assam honoured Dr. T. Ao in 1977 for his contribution to the state of Assam by presenting a small and precious statuette of a rhino, the state animal. T. Ao’s legacy was recognised even after his death as he received the Mohari Rama award in the year 2001 by Mohan Bagan Athletic Club

Two tournaments have been named after him. Many states have named their stadiums T.Ao in his honour. Cotton College has an indoor stadium named after him and Nagaon has an outdoor stadium named after him. Meghalaya has named its sports complex after T.Ao to honour him. In Dimapur, also a sports facility has been inaugurated in honour of T.Ao.

  1. Ao’s charisma, his resilience and exemplary hard work makes him a hero for the youth today. He was able to put himself above his adversities to become the first football captain of India and first Naga doctor. There are lessons in his journey that all of us could learn from and imbibe in our life. On 13 September commemorate T. Ao on his 22nd death anniversary so that his legacy continues.

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