Talimeren Ao was a frontline footballer who captained India in their first international Football match. Besides being a talented sportsman, Ao was a physician by profession.
North-east India has gifted Indian Football with some brilliant talents who by their individual brilliance played a huge role in putting the Northeastern states on par with established Football regions. But the story started quite some decades ago through Talimeren Ao who could be considered as the region’s first Football hero.
Talimeren Ao was born in 1918 at Changki in the then Naga Hills district of Assam. His village especially belonged to the Ao tribe who are one of the 16 tribes of Nagaland. His father was Subongwati Ningdangri, the first Reverend in the Naga Hills and his mother was Maongsangla Changkilari.
Talimeren Ao was inclined towards sports right from his childhood. When his family moved to the Mokokchung town, Ao had his first encounter with Football. There was a field near their house where he and other boys played Football with handmade balls made of tightly-tied rugs.
Ao’s father died early due to typhoid but wanted his son to serve the Naga people by becoming a doctor. As he was sent to Jorhat Mission School, Talimeren Ao had both things in place- he got quality education and at the same time was exposed to proper Football through training in his school.
His skills were bettered when he joined Cotton College in Guwahati. He started playing for his college team as a striker and sometimes joined the practice session of Maharana Club, Assam’s largest Football Club at that time. Noticed by the club, Ao got an offer to join the club after his completion of college but not as a striker.
A well-built footballer, Talimeren Ao was put to play in the midfield. He showed extraordinary skill while playing for Maharana Club and soon became one of the most trusted players for them. But at the same time, to pay respect to his father’s last wishes, Ao was successful in getting admission in Carmichael Medical College (presently R G Kar Medical College) in Kolkata.
Talimeren Ao was perhaps destined to reach the hub of Indian Football. At Kolkta, he joined Mohun Bagan Club through the recommendation of Sarat Das, his co-player in Maharana Club who was then the captain of Mohun Bagan. Ao played as a defender in the team; his skill and temperament put him at the highest-rank and he succeeded Sarat Das as the captain of Mohun Bagan.
His elegance and amazing ball control made him one of the key players of Indian national Football team. In 1948, Ao was selected as the captain of Indian Football team that represented the country in the Olympics. Thus Talimeren Ao gained the title of ‘Independent India’s First Football Captain.”
At the Olympics, Ao carried the flag for the Indian contingent. The Indian team’s first match was against Burma, but the game was a walkover. They lost 2-1 to France in their second match. Ao played five more matches before retiring from Football.
To fulfil his Football dreams, the Principal of Carmichael Medical College, granted him a year’s leave. So, after retiring from Football, he went back to his college to complete his medical degree. He practiced medicine in Kolkata for some years but ultimately went back to his homeland to serve his fellowmen as wished by his father. Dr. Ao served in the Nagaland Civil Hospital as a civil surgeon and retired as the Director of Nagaland Health Services.
Though being away from Football, Talimeren Ao was remembered by Mohun Bagan. In 2002 the Mohun Bagan honored him by creating the Mohun Bagan Ratna Award and giving him a Life Membership. As a tribute to his achievements many stadiums in North-East India have been named after him like an outdoor stadium at Kaliabor and an indoor stadium at Cotton College.
Talimeren Ao passed away in 1998 at the age of 80 due to fragile health and influenza. The footballer-doctor is still remembered in North-East India as a ‘man with a mission’ who served the society with his multiple skills and expertise.