Hero I-League winner Khaimin Lhungdim yet to impress mother

KOZHIKODE: How many trophies must a footballer win, before he gains recognition from his loved ones? The answer may not exactly be blowing in the wind for RoundGlass Punjab’s Khaimin Lhungdim.

The 22-year-old Hero I-League champion has fought against the odds, without much support, and has made it as a professional footballer. But even a Hero I-League title may not be enough to convince his mother.

“It was my mother’s dream to see me join the Army, but I’ve had other plans to play football,” said Lhungdim. “It had been a struggle to go against her wishes in the last few years, and I thought that winning a Hero I-League title would hopefully make her see the merit.

“But even when the local association came to felicitate me after winning the I-League, she was not convinced. She still wants me to join the Army or get a government job,” smiled Lhungdim. “Mothers can be like that, but I know she means well.”

Lhungdim has been in form on RoundGlass Punjab’s right wing this season, helping his side clinch the Hero I-League title, which will help the Panchkhula-based side gain promotion next season.

“I’m excited about the promotion, and it will be interesting to pit ourselves against the best teams in India in the Hero ISL now,” said Lhungdim. “If the recent Hero Super Cup was any indication, then we have to learn quickly and not make mistakes against teams like Bengaluru FC and Kerala Blasters FC.”

RoundGlass Punjab were placed in a difficult group (A) consisting of hosts Kerala Blasters FC, Hero ISL runners-up Bengaluru FC, and Hero I-League runners-up Sreenidi Deccan FC. While they emerged with only three points, it proved to be a good acid test for the club.

“The three matches were difficult, but was a good learning experience. For me specially, it is not easy to play in hot conditions, as I am from the hills in Manipur. But I try to stay away from air-conditioned rooms in order to acclimatise myself,” said Lhungdim.

The 22-year-old now has the option to switch off his AC, but there was a time when he went to Imphal for trials with nothing but a few hundred Rupees in his pocket, and his own wits on the pitch about him.

“I had heard of these trials in Imphal and just hopped on a bus with my gear. My father was the only one who supported me, and he gave me some two-three hundred Rupees, whatever he could afford,” he said. “That was the first time I went to Imphal, I did not know anyone there, I did not know where in the city I had to go, and I did not even speak the Meitei language.”

A speaker of the Kuki language, Lhungdim somehow managed to get to the ground and was given a week-long trial after an initial good display, and soon, the youngster found himself in the NEROCA U-18 side, before he made his way to the senior team in the Hero I-League.

Young Career booting…

Lhungdim hails from the Kuki tribes that live in the Churchandpur district in the south-western reaches of Manipur, where he grew up playing extensively in the local football arenas. With his mother running a small dhaba in the area, and his father being a mechanic, Lhungdim’s family was not exactly prepared to incur the expenses of buying their sons boots to play football.

“I used to play in a lot of local tournaments, especially the ones where you would get paid decent money. Some would pay Rs 500, some would pay Rs 1,000, but those were big amounts for us back then. I would use that money to buy cheap boots,” said Lhungdim.

While he sports boots manufactured by one of the biggest multinational sportswear brands right now, it was the cheap boots that carried him a long way – even into the early stages of his Hero I-League career. “When I first got through to NEROCA FC’s senior side in the 2019-20 season, I remember the first away game we had was against Chennai City in Coimbatore. I had not yet earned enough to buy expensive boots, so I was wearing my old shoes. But that did not matter. I still played well and got the Hero of the Match award,” he said.

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