I was born and raised in Bethlem Vengthlang, a low-middle class working neighbourhood of Aizawl. It’s a close-knit neighbourhood with a dense cluster of homes, a Presybeterian Church and a football field.
My mother is an Anganwadi worker and father a local driver. I was raised in a hardworking family. I went to Bethlehem Vengthlang Primary School followed by Modern English School. By the time I was 6 or 7, I used to play in the streets and then in the tennis courts and places like that. Basically, anywhere where you could fit a few people and play. But it was from Class 5 when I started getting serious about football.
When I was 14, Bethlehem Vengthlang conducted a trial in our local ground and I was sent for the trial from Sharva Shikhsha Abhiyan (SSA) as a part of their sports program.
I was selected and that’s when I began training in the local fields. That was a big jump for me – from the streets to proper football pitches. It felt amazing!
Training there would mostly happen in the morning and evening and I would often play the Youth Tournaments there.
I was happy playing for the local youth side and studying at the same time. For a while, I played for Mizoram Police at the U-16 level but I was a relatively unknown name and felt I was not progressing as a footballer. So I returned to my local club Bethlehem Vengthlang. With all the experience I had playing those tournaments and with Mizoram Police, I actually had improved my game! That’s when people started knowing me.
Well, my name Khawlhring Lalthathanga was given to me by my grandfather. But my mother used to call me Puitea and since then, everyone started calling me Puitea and I was known in my Veng (neighbourhood) as Puitea - the footballer. I was playing for Bethlehem Vengthlang FC in the MPL and was recognized for my efforts on the pitch.
Right from the SSA Academy till now, my father has been a great support throughout. Whenever I was playing a local match or an MPL game, he used to be on the stands to support me or would watch me on TV. It was difficult for him, being a driver managing his work and sustaining the entire family, but he never let the troubles come in our way. He always stood behind me and had faith that I would become a successful footballer someday.
I am still young and still have a long way to go, but this game helps you find little joy in life. Last year, I bought a scooty for my family and it was a very fulfilling experience for me to repay the man in whatever little way I could.
Things were financially and personally very difficult at home, but again even all working professionals have problems, don’t they? So, we need to fight and “Be A Man” and have faith in God. Prayer and Faith is my strength, I am a fighter like a Mizo warrior.
When I am on the pitch, I give my everything, the last drop of fuel in my body. I take nothing back. I believe if I give everything I have on the pitch, God will help with the rest.
I have never had any negative thoughts about my family and the financial situation or anything that has happened around me, I have the best family in the world!
Everyone’s dealt a hand to them – some good some bad. But it’s what you do with it that matters. So we make the most of it.
My strength comes from God, my mother and her prayers. So, the Puitea you see on the field fights with faith, fights with belief, and fights with the strength of their prayers.
Whenever I need motivation. I read the Bible. Particularly, Psalm 37.5, “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass”.
To improve myself as a footballer, I often watch YouTube videos of good assists and try to follow the situations and how the players react and try to enact them in match situations and implement them.
I am from Bethlehem, and it was good to be able to don the colours of my local team Bethlehem Vengthlang and getting the award for the best midfielder in 2015 was a precious moment for me. I owe a lot to my Coach, Lalsangzuala Hmar (Coach Sanga). He gave me the confidence and allowed me to play with freedom to express myself on the pitch. He is the best Coach of Mizoram.
Soon after, newly started DSK-Liverpool Academy of Pune came calling. Their scout contacted me and I was off to Pune and it was a whole new world for me. Far away from the blue hills of Mizoram and its peaceful life, I now found myself in Pune. It was a very, very tough period for me. To leave my family, my home, the winding streets and the dusty grounds of Bethlehem Vengthlang.
Initially, I felt out of depth, in the swanky DSK academy, their state-of-the-art facilities and silky artificial training ground. I was crying every day in my room, longing to go back to my town. It took time, I slowly bonded with my teammates and coaching under British Coach, Dave Rogers, I slowly adjusted to the new way of life.
I played as a left-wing half/ left wing-back but Dave Rogers moulded me into a midfielder because of my ability to play with both feet.
I played for the DSK U-18 team and was promoted to the senior squad DSK-Shivajians in sometime. Though I did not play much, the experience was good.
So, it was playing the MPL and then going to DSK that made me become a professional footballer. The games in the MPL are intense and end-to-end stuff and it helped me become the versatile, quick thinking player as I am today.
I learned many new things from my coach Dave Rogers in the DSK academy. He also taught a lot of stuff off the field. I learned what to eat, what not to eat and when to eat. I understood that eating rice every day is not good for a footballer! He also taught me what time to sleep, how many hours of sleep will help me give my best and when to enjoy my free time. So, it helped me become a better player.
After my DSK days, I was approached by NorthEast United last season. But then, I went to Aizawl on loan, and it was beneficial for me to play another season in the I-league.
I had another satisfying season in I-League and learned a lot playing against big teams like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and others. I was part of the folklore of the I-League winning side Aizawl FC. That was such a memorable moment! It was our own Leicester story!
After Aizawl FC in the I-League, a lot changed in Aizawl and people suddenly started to take note of Mizoram in a new light as a footballing hotbed.
We now have a proper ground and the facilities have improved. In Mizoram as a whole, the development of infrastructure has been excellent. We have many new fields and also a new Indoor Stadium.
After spending another season with Aizawl FC and getting used to playing a higher level and a fast tempo game, I felt I was ready for ISL.
Then the season when NEUFC asked me to join them again, I was pleased and didn’t hesitate on accepting the offer because I felt I was ready. I felt that I had improved my skills and had matured enough to be ready for the big league.
The reason I joined NEUFC was because of a senior player from Mizoram, Robert L. I was a fan of Robert when I was a kid, and he used to play in the I-League for East Bengal. When I first got the offer, I texted Robert asking him for advice. He immediately suggested that I should join the side. So that’s exactly what I did! I feel immensely proud to play for a side that represents my region and my roots.
I am extremely happy to have joined this club and the way Coach Eelco has put his faith in me. Eelco is probably the best coach I have ever had in my career. He has helped me a lot on and off the pitch. He always teaches me how a Central Midfielder should play. He helps me focus on the little things like how to turn, where to run and make space for creating chances. He also motivates me a lot and I am thankful for having a coach like him.
I have never seen players like Ogbeche and Gallego before in my playing career. I learn a lot from Ogbeche. When I got my first start, Bart came to me and said: "This is your first start, but it won't be your last, so don't have any fear and play well." When the captain comes and gives you such confidence, it helps a player do well.
Gallego is also very helpful. He always tells me how to play and he's an excellent friend off the pitch. We have a lot of fun after the games too. Both of them are winners, they have a winning mentality and always want to win the matches for the team.
I am a Mizo by heart and would like to see Mizo Football develop further into a footballing powerhouse.
God has been kind so far. Well, it is every footballer's dream to play for the national team, and I also want to play for India but in the meantime, all I can do is keep working hard and play well for Northeast United FC.