Eight years ago, the Dera Sant Hazara Singh Gurdwara, situated 25 km from Gurdaspur, set out to create a football academy for the children of village Nike Guman.
Today, the academy is touted as one of the success stories of Indian football. Eight players from the Sant Baba Hazara Singh Football Academy —Jarmanpreet Singh, Harmanjot Singh, Manraj Singh, Agiapal Singh, Robanjit Singh, Amandeep Singh, Sukhchain Singh and Gurjit Singh — have made it to the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) under-14 camp at Madgaon, Goa. The camp is to prepare for the AFC Football Festival in Iran later this month.
“There was no football academy in Gurdaspur. So, we decided to have one in the Dera complex in 2002,” said Baba Amrik Singh, the spiritual head.
What's adding sheen to the initiative is the fact that it has the highest number of probables, amongst 76, in the under-14 camp. The presence of eight boys means Punjab has outdone traditional powerhouses like Bengal, Meghalaya and Kerala, who have six trainees each.
It doesn't end here. Kamaljeet, Sukhpreet and Gurvinder Singh have done the academy proud by being among the 33 players in the under-16 camp at Goa.
“When we started the academy, we never thought results would come in so quickly. Since 2006, our trainees have made their presence felt at the junior national circuit, but the icing has been our presence in the U-14 squad for Iran,” said academy coach Harinderjit Singh.
At the outset, the academy took in 22 children in the age group of 9-10 years. By 2006, the intake was up to 40. “We now have teams in the U-14 and U-17 categories,” he said.
Off the field, the academy, which has till date produced 47 national and nine international players, is a rallying point for the village. Not only Sikhs, children from other faiths throng the academy, giving it a unique identity.