Shillong, Jan 29: Meghalaya footballers have reached the top levels of the domestic game as well as having represented the national team – think of Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Rocus Lamare and Aibor Khongjee. There are also several playing in the Indian Super League and I-League, but these all come from the Khasi-Jaintia Hills.

But while football is popular in the western part of Meghalaya too, Garo footballers have yet to break into the very top.

However, Klingson Marak is the exception and he’s performing very well in blind football. In fact, Marak, who hails from South West Garo Hills, is the Indian national captain.

Klingson Marak picking up the runners-up trophy for North East Shower Blind Football Club from Superintendent of Police CID R Muthu at the conclusion of the 3rd North East Blind Football Tournament

Marak has a couple of fellow Meghalayans in the national team – Gabriel Nongrum and Hilter Khongphai. The latter two were part of the Bethany Society team that won the 3rd North East Blind Football Tournament in Shillong on Saturday. Marak, incidentally, was in the team that ended as runners-up – North East Shower Blind Football Club.

Gabriel Nongrum picking up the Golden Boot from Superintendent of Police CID R Muthu at the conclusion of the 3rd North East Blind Football Tournament 

Both Nongrum and Marak have been playing for the Indian team for only a couple of years or so. They are both the children of farmers and come from large families. The two also wore the No. 7 jerseys for their respective sides in the North East tournament.

Nongrum is from Ri-Bhoi and was the top scorer of the tournament, scoring 15 goals and the only penalty in the tiebreaker that was required to separate the two teams. Marak, meanwhile, was named player-of-the-tournament.

Despite not playing all that long for India, the pair have already been places.

“I’ve played in three international tournaments – the Tri-Continental Tournament, World Grand Prix and against Australia. It’s a new experience for me to get world exposure,” Nongrum told TSR after the final.

On being the top scorer he said, “It is all because of teamwork. Without my team it wouldn’t have happened.”

Nongrum, who lost his eyesight when he was a two-year-old, was only playing football for a year before he broke into the national team and he’s rapidly become a prolific scorer. He plays as a striker, but quickly finds his way into defence when India are up against strong opposition.

He also has sublime control of the ball and demonstrated his ability of running all the way up the pitch without losing the ball, which is no mean feat without being able to see.

While slightly less graceful, Marak has shown himself to be a real fighter on the pitch, constantly throwing himself into tackles in order to get the ball away from an opponent.

“I am from Ampati district (South West Garo Hills) but I am staying in Kochi (where the Indian Blind Football Federation, who organised the tournament in Shillong, is based),” Marak said. “Playing football is good. I got the top score against Australia – five goals,” he added without a hint of immodesty.

The two have also caught the media’s attention before.

Currently ranked 29 out of around 60 countries that play blind football, Nongrum was quoted as saying by Times of India in 2017 that his “dream is to help the Indian team climb up to the top spot.”

Marak, meanwhile, summed up, when asked by The Shillong Times, the challenges of playing football with a disability.

“What can I say? There are many challenges which a normal person will never understand. But the important thing is to make the most of your abilities and try to do the best you can,” he said.

(TSR photos. You can read more about the specifics of blind football here)

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