Two months after he turned 20, Jeje Lalpekhlua, took the field for his team, the Arrows, against the lowly Air India team in the 2010-11 I-League season. Just two weeks prior, he had featured for the Indian Under-23 team, opening the scoring in a 2-1 win against Myanmar in Pune.
The three-season old I-League - India’s Division I football league - was coming off its best season yet; the previous season saw a then-record 486 goals scored in 182 matches. The fight at the top was fierce with rivalries between Salgaocar FC, East Bengal FC, Dempo FC, and Churchill Brothers FC cannibalizing I-league headlines on sports pages across the country.
So there was nothing noteworthy when two teams languishing at the bottom - the Arrows, and Air India - took the field for Match No. 126 that season.
Jeje, though, had other plans.
In one of the more sublime performances by a 20-year-old Indian in the I-League, he upended a shambolic Air India defense, finding the back of the net four times. Air India were no strangers to lopsided defeats that season - they conceded a league-worst 57 goals that season - but the hat-trick did wonders for the forward’s confidence. It was his first domestic hat-trick in the I-League; a feat repeated twice that season.
A week after his first hat-trick, Jeje made his debut for the senior Indian National team against Chinese Taipei; he scored again.
Bob Houghton was annoyed.