The Barefoot Legend of India
Dr. T. Ao was the first Indian football team Captain from present Nagaland state who represented free India in 1948 London Olympics. He carried the flag for the Indian contingent at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics on 29th July 1948 at Wembley stadium.
Dr. Telimeran Ao also popularly known as T. Ao or Ao “Da” to his fans and fellow players is a legend from present Nagaland who was loved and respected by his fans for his unflinching dedication towards football and his down to earth personality. The barefoot legend who is intensely celebrated in Assam and Bengal is perhaps one of the most prominent and notable Naga. His contribution to football is greatly admired. He has two football tournaments named after him. Since 2009, football tournaments are being organised in North Eastern states among different state teams to lift the Dr. T. Ao Trophy. T. Ao is an alma mater of Cotton College. He was a student of Science College there. Now, Cotton college has an indoor stadium named after him. Meghalaya too has named a sports complex after him- Dr. T.Ao Sport’s complex, in his honour.
Dr. T. Ao was the captain of Mohun Bagan club in Kolkata where he was a dominating mid fielder and defender. With his 5 feet 10 inches athletic features, there was nothing that could stop him. Dr. T. Ao was the first Indian football team Captain who represented free India in 1948 London Olympics. He carried the flag for the Indian contingent at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics on 29th July 1948 at Wembley stadium. He sacrificed a year of his education in MBBS to captain the Independent India to London Olympics. Though the Indian team lost to France with a 2-1 score but they did leave the British audience in fascination and amusement as they saw young Indian footballers playing barefooted in the Olympics.
Ao’s passion for football conceived from his early childhood days. Being born in Ao community Chongki Village of Naga hills district of then Assam, currently Nagaland’s Mokokchung district, in 1918 and raised in Impur there wasn’t many facilities available to him. But determined even as a child T. Ao would make his own balls out of tightly bound rags and even use Pamelo- a citrus fruit as football to play in the field. With no shoes, he would play all the sports bare footed. His first introduction to proper football happened in Jorhat where he went for his futher studies. From Jorhat, he went to Guwahati to pursue studies in Cotton College where he found better exposure. There, he was able to join the Maharana Club, the largest football club of Assam. Dr. T. Ao’s father’s last wish was to see him become a doctor and serve the people and he wanted to fulfil this wish of his father. Hence, he got admission into Carmichael Medical College in Kolkata. In Kolkata, he got himself inducted into the Mohun Bagan football club where Surat Das, a friend of Ao from Maharana football club was already playing. His glorious performances and admirable sportsmanship led him to the captainship of the Mohun Bagan club and later enlistment in the National Team where he again became the Captain.
T. Ao was very sharp and intelligent, embodying an essence crucial for all students and generations to come. Despite adversities, He not only shined in the football field but also excelled in his studies.
Dr. T Ao completed his MBBS degree in 1950 fulfilling his father’s wish and joined Dibrugarh Medical College as Registrar (ENT). He was then transferred to kohima and got posted there as Assistant Surgeon in 1953. Dr. T. Ao was the first Naga Director of Health Services after Nagaland attained Statehood in 1963 and remained so till his retirement in 1978. However, his passion for football never ended. He would encourage local football talents and organize Medical Football Team. He would take a profound interest in local tournaments.
T. Ao’s profound legacy was admired by sports community as he was selected as a member of the All India Olympic Football Selection Committee from 1968 to 1969. He was also a member of the All India Council of Sports 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.
T. Ao died in 1998 at his estate in Padamphukhri village and left behind a series of commendable accomplishments. 13 September marks the 22nd death anniversary of this barefoot legend. A day to remember and pay tribute to a legend, a pride, the first football hero of India for his remarkable journey and services to the sports community and the people of India.