His talent on the football field has taken him places, but the September heat of India is a whole new ballgame for 14-year-old Luke Griffiths. “It’s too hot here,” says the captain of the Cardinal Heenan Sports College, one of two teams from outside Asia at the 53rd Subroto Cup. “I haven’t played in weather like this. But I’m happy with how I played today.”
Struggling to cope with the alien weather, the team from West Derby, a suburb of Liverpool, went down 0-3 in their boys’ junior (under-17) group opener at the Ambedkar Stadium on Sunday. “The boys were exhausted after about 20 minutes,” laments coach Pete Sewill.
Having had some time to acclimatise, the boys from England skipper Steven Gerrard’s alma mater — all but two of whom are all of 14 — bounced back to defeat the team from Daman & Diu by an identical scoreline on Monday.
Griffiths has represented Bolton Wanderers’ academy in the Netherlands, Norway and the US — noticed by a scout, he now trains twice a week at the former Premier League club — but for the school team, this is their first trip overseas.
“It’s more than just football,” says Sewill. “The whole cultural experience — making friends with people, seeing new places — is important for these kids.”
The school, which receives funds from the state channelled through the local council, does not charge its wards for either education or sports. Having illustrious alumni like Gerrard is an added advantage. “Bradley Orr (Blackburn Rovers right-back) often comes back to the school to work with the kids,” says the coach.
Like many of his mates, Griffiths wants to “try and make a career in football”. Given the humble backgrounds the kids hail from, it’s hard not to see why. “For them, football is an opportunity to have a better way of life,” says Sewill.
The coach, however, rues that youngsters discovered and nurtured by the school are picked up by scouts of professional clubs.
“We have contracts as per which the kids stay with us till they’re 16, but often they’re unavailable for many key school games,” says Sewill. “And now that clubs like Liverpool and Everton have started their own schools, they try to get the promising ones transferred to those.”