Untold Stories, Southeast Asian Clubs: Chin United
The Chin State is a remote area and even such simple things as communication are difficult
Yet, as is often the case, his thoughts will wander back to his homeland and the family he has been separated from for more than a decade.
Suan Lam Mang is an ethnic Chin, one of Myanmar’s most repressed minority groups, and due to grinding poverty he was sent as a child to an orphanage in Yangon to be given a better chance at life.
“My family was very poor, we were living from hand to mouth and I was sent away to try to have a better future,” he tells FourFourTwo from the orphanage where he still lives on the outskirts of Yangon.
“I was 10 years old when I came here and I’ll always remember those days; my spirit longs, time after time, for my parents.”
JAMES LIAN SAI Owner and founder of the club, he runs a series of orphanages across Yangon where football plays a prominent role in the education of the children
SUAN LAM MANG The club’s striker and a member of the national team, he came at the age of 10 to Yangon and was raised through the orphanage
U ZWE HLAING HME The former Ayeyawady executive was brought to the club late last year and installed as CEO, tasked with continuing the consolidation of their top-flight status
COLOURS: Green (home), Red (away)
MOST SUCCESFUL COACH: U Soe Thein. Chin United are yet to win a title, but with 2016 looming as the most successful year in the club’s history, those in and around the team regard the current coach as the most talented they’ve had to date.
HOME GROUND: Thuwunna Youth Training Centre Stadium, Yangon (Neutral Venue)
From a desperately poor childhood to the national team, it’s been an amazing journey for Suan and several of his teammates from a similar background.
And they have one man and one inspiring club to thank for orchestrating large parts of that journey.
Chin State, in the west of Myanmar, is the poorest region in one of Southeast Asia’s poorest nations; a remote, inaccessible area where declining agricultural conditions and systemic neglect have led to increased privation and hardship.
A 2009 ‘Human Rights Watch’ report called the Chin a “forgotten people where poverty runs at almost 70 per cent and where extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, forced labor and restrictions on movement, expression and religious freedom” are commonplace.
There have been long-running military conflicts between the various ethnic groups of Chin State and the central government, while stories of abuse and persecution have been well-documented by a host of international organisations.
It’s a region where merely surviving, understandably, takes precedence to any kind of leisure pursuits, but football is playing an important role in transforming the lives of hundreds of Chin boys and men.
James Lian Sai has been running orphanages in the country’s largest city, Yangon, for more than a decade and quickly discovered the power of football as a way to help normalise the lives of those who have come from desperate situations.
After several years of participating in local amateur leagues run amongst the dozens of orphanages dotted across Yangon, he established his own club side in 2011.
Chin United were founded to represent a region and a people that many have forgotten, as he tells FourFourTwo.
“The Chin State is a remote area and even such simple things as communication are difficult,” Sai said.
“We have only one main road and you’re not even able to drive two cars along that at a time and the people have suffered for many years and are poor, very poor.
“Even with many Chin people in recent years starting to get an education, the government doesn’t want to give them jobs because there is discrimination.”
The club’s first top-flight season in 2012 resulted in just one win in 26 matches, but after success in the second tier they returned to finish 10th in the 12-team Myanmar National League (MNL) in 2014 and one position higher than that last term.
Remarkably, the club features four players who came as children to Sai’s orphanage and who have risen through the ranks to now star for the first team, as well as featuring at youth and senior level for the national side.
Ram Hlei Ceu is a softly-spoken midfielder whose quiet nature belies his character in rising from a tragic childhood to become one of the more highly regarded players in the MNL.
“I was six when I came to the orphanage after both of my parents had died; we lived in a remote area with no nurses or doctors and my mother passed away during childbirth,” he said.
“Now, the orphanage and football are my family and I’ve dreamed of being a professional footballer since I first came here.”
Another of the team’s stars is midfielder ‘BiBi’ Bawi Nuam Thang, who arrived in Yangon as a teenager.
“I come from a small village near the Indian border and my family were very poor, we were living in very basic conditions and I came here when I was 15.
“Even though at times I feel lonely and my spirit longs for my parents, I know I have a better life and through football I’ve been able to ease that longing.”