His name is Ninthoinganba Meitei. 

His dream was to become a footballer. It’s not easy. But Ninthoi had two things that mattered most. The dedication required to make it big and the support of his biggest fan – his father, Manglemb.

The family resides in Imphal, Manipur, and they belong to a humble background. Football as a career in India can be tricky; stability-wise and financially as well. But his biggest fan always wanted him to play. And that’s all the motivation he needed. 

When Ninthoi was only 13, his school had made it to the Subroto Cup. A proud father wanted to see his son on the field. But Ninthoi refused. He thought his father, a cow herder, would have to shell out more than he could afford to make the trip to Delhi and may even have trouble eating the food there. Yes, a 13-year-old thought of so much.


He idolises Cristiano Ronaldo. The teenager perhaps wanted to wait. Maybe he wanted to make it to the bigger leagues and then invite his father to watch. Ninthoi did make it big. He made it as big as it gets for someone his age. His hard work has earned him a place in the Indian squad for the upcoming Under-17 World Cup.

But destiny had its part to play as well. Ninthoi’s father hadn’t been keeping well and was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The last time Ninthoi went home, his father couldn’t come to pick him up at the airport and that is when he found out about the illness. 

The family hadn’t told Ninthoi because his father wanted him to realise the dream they dreamt of together. And this would’ve served as a distraction. Two months ago, while Ninthoi was on tour training with his team, he got news of his father passing away. 


The last time Ninthoi had met him, his father had recorded a message on his phone. 

“He even took my phone and recorded a message, a sound that you can hear when people cheer at the stadium,” he told TOI.

Ninthoi’s biggest fan couldn’t keep his promise or his dream of seeing his son in action one day. But he did keep faith in him till his last breath. And Ninthoi repaid that by earning the number 7 jersey for his country. The same as his favourite player.

Ninthoi still regrets not letting his father come for his Subroto Cup game. But this was not something he could have predicted. It takes a lot of courage for a 16-year-old to cope with such a huge loss and handle the regret in his young heart. But he remains strong. And his father would’ve been proud of his brave son.  

Success will come his way, not just because of his skill but because of what motivates him – a promise he made to his biggest fan, his father. Ninthoi will grace the field for India in the Under-17 World Cup next month. 

His father won’t be at the stadium. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be watching.