Talimeren Ao, an Indian football legend who turned down Arsenal for his father's wish.

The captivating journey of Dr. Talimeren Ao: From captaining the Indian national football team and rejecting Arsenal FC to earning his MBBS degree and serving as Director of Health Services in Nagaland.

Talimeren Ao, an Indian football legend who turned down Arsenal for his father's wish.

Friday June 30, 2023,

3 min Read

In the realm of Indian football history, the name of Dr. Talimeren Ao resonates powerfully. Born on the 28th of January, 1918, in Changki, Nagaland, Ao was not only a lauded footballer, but also a respected physician. As the captain of the Indian national football team in their inaugural match post-independence, he is fondly remembered as a pillar of the sport in India. However, his journey from the football pitches of India to the esteemed corridors of medicine was far from ordinary.

Early Years and Introduction to Football

Ao grew up in the Naga Hills as the fourth amongst twelve siblings. His footballing talent was evident early on, as he captained his school teams and was named the best footballer of the All Assam Inter School Football Championship in 1937​​. Whilst studying at Cotton College in Guwahati, Ao had his first brush with competitive football. His skill on the field was such that he helped his college team win all local trophies​.

Joining Mohun Bagan and Ascension to Captaincy

In 1943, Ao's footballing career took a significant stride forward when he joined the Mohun Bagan AC club in the Calcutta Football League. He began as a striker, but upon joining Mohun Bagan, he was repositioned as a defender. His skills, along with those of his teammates, earned them the epithet "the Great Wall of China." His impressive performance led to his appointment as captain of the Indian Football Team in 1948, the same year he led Mohun Bagan​.

The 1948 Milestone

1948 proved to be a watershed year for Ao and Indian football. That year, Ao captained the India national football team on a European tour and led them to emphatic victories against several clubs. He was the flag bearer of the Indian contingent at the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, where India played its first official game after gaining independence​​. Their performance in the tournament was so commendable that the team was invited to a dinner at Buckingham Palace by Princess Margaret. After the tournament, the team played exhibition matches in England, Wales, the Netherlands, and Ireland, even achieving a 5-2 victory over the legendary Dutch club, Ajax Amsterdam​.

Turning Down Arsenal FC

During this period, Ao caught the attention of the English giants, Arsenal F.C. They were so captivated by his talent that they offered him a one-year contract. However, Ao declined the enticing opportunity. The reason? Ao was always propelled by a promise he had made to his late father – to become a doctor. This was a promise he was determined to keep​.

The Journey to Medicine

In 1950, Ao realised his father's dream and completed his MBBS degree. He then hung up his football boots and embarked on a career in medicine. He joined the ENT department at Dibrugarh Medical College and later became the medical superintendent at Kohima Civil Hospital. Ao continued his rise in the medical field, becoming the first Naga Director of Health Services, a post he held until 1978​.


Dr. Talimeren Ao passed away on 13 September 1998. His remarkable life, characterised by significant achievements in both football and medicine, continues to inspire countless individuals. His name is etched in golden letters in Indian football history, and his legacy continues to be celebrated​.