In a country where every second person wants to be a cricketer, 10-year-old Gurpreet Singh Sandhu dared to dream differently. Goaded by his father DSP Tejinder Singh, Gurpreet’s introduction to cricket lasted just two days as the youngster refused to carry on. And 14 years later, he is scripting history for a country, generally starved of sporting heroes apart from cricket.
Yesterday night, the 24-year-old added another first to his long list by becoming the first Indian to play in Europa League qualifier for his Norwegian club Stabæk FC against Welsh club Connah’s Quay Nomads FC at the first qualifying round stage.
“He was pretty clear in what he wanted even at that age. He said he would prefer football. So as parents, we never came in his way. Today the proudest moment for me is when people recognise me because of him. He has worked hard and it’s his passion for the game that has helped him reach new heights,” said DSP Tejinder Singh, Gurpreet’s father who used to play cub level cricket. His father DSP (investigation) Tejinder is posted in Ropar, his mother Harjit Kaur is presently on UN mission to Cyprus.
Gurpreet’s first big moment came in 2007 when he was selected in the Chandigarh team for the zonal leg the under-16 national championship. The performance in that tournament helped him earn a berth in the national camp for the under-16 AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Championship qualifiers and he hasn’t looked back since then. The youngster went on to represent the country at under-17, under-19 and under-22 level.
Towering at 6’6’’ Gurpreet was left hurt when his initial talks to join English club Wigan Athletic fell through. “There were some prior contractual obligations with East Bengal and he wasn’t released. Then next year he refused to sign with any club hoping to make it in Europe. That chance came with Stabæk FC but he hasn’t given up on his dream of playing in English Premier League one day. And knowing him he will surely make it,” a proud father said.
Tejinder recalls, how this year, when they went to meet him in Norway and Gurpreet left for Sweden to play matches after spending just two days with them.
“It his love and passion for the game that will see him achieve greater heights. As a parent I can’t ask for more. My parents didn’t allow me to play cricket because of studies but we never created any hurdles for him,” Tejinder added.
Age: 24 years
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu started playing at the age of eight at St Stephen’s School academy in Chandigarh
The goalkeeper was part of the Indian team that won 2007 AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Championship qualifiers
Was selected in national squads for u-19 and u-22 AFC Championship qualifiers in 2009 and 2010; and also signed by East Bengal
Played in Guangzhou Asian Games 2010
Has become the first choice custodian for India for quite some time and his most recent appearance for India was in play-off against Laos
Clubs: East Bengal and Stabæk FC