FIFA U-17 World Cup: Indian footballers take inspiration from humble beginnings
Many Indian footballers, who will play at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, had seen their parents struggle to make ends meet.
A tailor’s son from Sikkim, a carpenter’s son from Manipur and a youngster whose mother is a street vendor in Bengaluru -- the Indian team for the FIFA U-17 World Cup is a fascinating blend of underdogs from different parts of the country.
Many in the 21-member team, playing in the first-ever FIFA event to be held in the country from October 6-28, had seen their parents struggle to make ends meet.
But they have managed to pursue their passion for the game and are on the verge of realising a dream -- that of playing for the country at one of the biggest stages in international football.
Komal Thatal, a sprightly 17-year-old boy from Sikkim, did not have the means to buy a football and he had to play with a ball made of rags or plastic in his childhood.
“My parents are tailors and we have a small shop at my native place. When I was a child I used to play with round objects made of cloth or plastic,” Thatal said from India’s training base in Goa.
His father, Arun Kumar, and mother Sumitra have been saving from their meagre income to buy the playing kits for Thatal, including a pair of boots and a football.
“It is hard to ask my parents to buy a football. But they are very supportive. They save money and buy football kits for me. I have friends who are better off and they have also helped me in getting things like footballs and boots,” said Thatal who wears the No.10 jersey.
From his local school at Timberbong at Soren sub-division in West Sikkim, Thatal made it to the Namchi Sports Academy in 2011. Impressed by his skills, the academy’s head coach sent Thatal for a trial in 2014 in Goa when the AIFF was looking for talented players for the U-17 World Cup.
Thatal got the nod and since then, he has been at the Indian camp. He has been a key member of the team and came to the limelight during the BRICS Cup in Goa last year when he scored a brilliant goal against Brazil though India lost the match 1-3.
A similar struggle was endured by Amarjit Singh Kiyam, a Manipuri boy who is likely to captain the side in the U-17 World Cup.
Amarjit’s father -- Chandramani Singh Kiyam – is a farmer and carpenter rolled into one at Thoubal, a small town in Manipur. His mother Ashangbi Devi sells fish everyday at the state capital in Imphal, which is about 25 km from her home.
“My father is a farmer and during the off-season, he works as a carpenter but he never asked me to join him. He encouraged me to play football and follow my heart’s desire,” Amarjit said.
The 16-year-old fell in love with football at his local school and in 2010, he left for Chandigarh where his elder brother Umakanta Singh was enrolled at a football academy.
Amarjit joined Chandigarh Football Academy and that lessened the burden on his parents. The academy provided him free lodging, food and even bore the cost of education at a school in Chandigarh.
In 2015, during one of the exposure trips of CFA to Goa, Amarjit caught the eye of the national selectors. He was called at the AIFF Academy in Goa and since then he has been training there. He is the midfield general of the Indian team.
Then, there is Sanjeev Stalin, whose mother Parmeshwari sells clothes on the footpaths of Bengaluru to run the family. He also got enrolled at the Chandigarh Football Academy at a young age and remained there for seven years before shifting to the national camp at the AIFF Academy in Goa.
“Everyday my father goes out for some work or the other and so my mother stands and sells clothes at the footpath with my maternal uncle and that is our family’s income. When I was a child I did not know where these booths are coming from nor did I know that the money came from selling clothes on the footpath. I just played football which was my passion.
“Now I know and I do see them standing (on the footpath) and selling and still making me smile in that difficulties,” said Stalin, the defensive bulwark of the Indian team.
Most of the remaining members of the Indian team are from humble backgrounds. Midfileder Khumanthem Ningthoinganba’s mother also sells fish in Imphal while Kolkata boy Jitendra Singh’s father is a watchman and mother a tailor.
All these young talents have the passion for football and same goal -- that of doing the country proud and making it to the national senior team one day.
“I used to think that one day I will represent the country and I am here now about to play in the U-17 World Cup. I still cannot believe it because it all feels like a dream,” said Amarjit.
“My parents were so confident about me that I will do something big in Indian football. That is the reason why I stayed at Chandigarh Football Academy for seven years, away from home. I meet them just once in a year.” Stalin added.
Sikkim boy Thatal summed it up nicely, saying, “Every footballer would want to play in the senior national team. But for us, it is the U-17 World Cup first. Our focus is on that. We will give our best, give our 100 per cent and hopefully do the country proud.”