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Playing the field

Published : Sep 16, 2016, 10:15 pm IST
Updated : Sep 16, 2016, 10:15 pm IST

Four young guns from Mumbai and Pune are currently being coached to play football at the English Premier League Club Crystal Palace FC. We talk to the kids about the once-in-a-lifetime training experience

(Representational image)
 (Representational image)

Four young guns from Mumbai and Pune are currently being coached to play football at the English Premier League Club Crystal Palace FC. We talk to the kids about the once-in-a-lifetime training experience

When you are armed with matchless skills, grit and the determination to make it big, there is little that can stop you. These kids from the municipal schools of Mumbai and Pune prove just that. From over 2,250 children, ten top players were handpicked from the School Football Championship of 2015 over a period of three months. These chosen few will now train at the English premier League Club Crystal Palace FC (CPFC) in the United Kingdom. Four of these ten are from the Just For Kicks program — an initiative that provides kids from low-income schools a platform to play football and apply learning from the experience to academics. Football for them is a passion, and as you read this, they are probably dribbling the ball with the players of CPFC in London. Farzana Cama Balpande, head of BookASmile (BAS), the organisation sponsoring the trip says, “The kids are going to be there for about a week and we have provisions for their boarding, lodging and transportation. The kids are extremely talented and have been chosen after a round of selections across India. Their schedule begins with a tour around Crystal Palace National Sports, some extensive training and they will also get an opportunity to watch the Crystal Palace versus Stoke City game on September 18,” she adds. We speak to the kids about their journeys:

Shatrughan Prajapati,Punyashlok Ahilya Devi Holkar English Medium School, Pune Shatrughan comes from a family of five, supported by his father, who runs a small shop. A regular backbencher and a problem child is how his teachers in Pune remember him from three years ago. Now 15, being on the ground with his teammates and representing his school at tournaments is his favourite part of the curriculum. “Football is a fun game; I don’t know why people like cricket so much. My favourite player is Lionel Messi. I like scoring goals, and conducting team meetings. In London, I’m going to learn the tricks and I’m excited to play against their local team there,” he says excitedly.

Avantika Solanki, Shindewadi MPS, Dadar Having lost her mother at a young age, Avantika took on the responsibility of taking care of her siblings, despite being a child herself. The 13-year-old found solace in the game, when she was directed to football by her teachers to open up her world beyond studies and reduce academic pressure. She shares, “ Football taught me to work in a team, now I’m much more disciplined and respect my fellow players,” says the teenager. Growing up in a football-loving community, where everyone revels in the culture of game, added to her growth. “ I practice for about two hours daily and teach my siblings too,” Ask her how excited she is to board her first flight and she says, “I’m very nervous but have been waiting to train with them and can’t wait to play!”

Samrat Bahaddur, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay English Medium School, Pune Samrat comes from a family of Nepali immigrants, with 15 people in the family sharing three bedrooms, in a slum in Kothrud, Pune. Two years ago, Samrat was an average 8-year-old kid in the classroom; he was someone lost in the shadows of his outperforming friends, who soon found his calling. The youngest of the lot, the young boy has taken to the ball like it was another limb. His father Janak Bahaddur shares, “He took responsibility of his team and made sure they all woke up every day at 4 am and trained till 7 am. From there, he would go to school. And as soon as the bells rang, Samrat would be back on the field practicing. He encourages the community members to watch his matches and look at the tricks he has learned. The atmosphere at home has transformed. There is so much energy. We will do whatever it takes to make sure he lives his dream, which is to some day play for Team India.”

Ashish Jadhav, Aseema Santacruz Municipal School This local Mumbai boy from Bandra grew up knowing one language — football. Ashish lost his parents at a tender age of three, and has been living with his grandmother and uncle since. He stumbled onto a football field at the age of six, and it was love at first sight for Ashish. He has worked his way up through school, despite plummeting grades and an average performance, without letting his personal struggles come in the way. “My teachers once thought I was extremely mischievous, fickle minded, and restless, but now they feel that I’m focused, hardworking, determined and dedicated to making a difference in Indian football. I wake up at 5 am every single day to complete my morning fitness drill and want to show my grandmother that all the time I spend in playing will bear fruits soon. I want to see India reach the top world ranking. Although I wouldn’t accompany the team to London due to legal issues, I’m glad I was selected amongst so many young players. We tried a lot to get my visa approved but nothing it didn’t work out,” adds Ashish.