Mumbai now has a Junior Football Club (JFC) on the lines of the Little Leagues in South Africa and the US. Since last October, around 500 children have been gathering at the Western Railway Sports Ground in Lower Parel every Saturday to play in the city’s first professionally run football league for kids.
Children from the film fraternity brush shoulders with kids of German, Japanese and French expats and corporate honchos, and talents from NGOs. “We have eight teams in four age groups, along with Soccer Tots comprising toddlers between two-and-a-half to four-and-a-half years. The finals were last Saturday since the summer and monsoon months are unplayable. Though the next season starts in October and we’re already flooded with calls,” says Rahul Raichand, founder of JFC, who hit upon the idea while in South Africa for the ICC World Cup.
His model-anchor wife Amrita, who grew up with two left feet, now admits to being able to kick the ball around with their four-year-old. He was too young to play for any team this year, but was a willing replacement to any missing member. She says, “Once there was no place to take our child to on weekends, apart from the mall or a movie. But now he’s been playing ball from 8.30 am to 11.30 am every Saturday, with Rahul and me cheering from the sidelines.”
The children proudly wear the JFC logo on their T-shirts and Adidas on their feet. Brands like Anchor, Infinity Cars, Walchand, Chika and Indigo Kids have sponsored teams, as have singer Shaan, actor Dino Morea and designers Nandita Mathani and Raghavendra Rathore. The kids train during the week with a professional coach, getting one coaching lesson per match. Many teams have a parent coach too, and a doctor on standby during a match.
“Parents arrive with picnic baskets and make merry. It’s a great way to bring families together, inculcate team spirit, cultural exchange and erase class differences,” says industrialist Rahul, who plans to take JFC to Pune and Bangalore next.