I-League-winning striker battles to make ends meet
Bineesh Balan was a promising forward with a bright future when he signed for Pune FC in 2014 in the I-League, then the country’s top tier in football.
The winger from Thrissur had already won multiple titles with Churchill Brothers—two Durand Cup trophies, one Federation Cup, and two I-League titles— and was expected to break into the national team soon.
Balan comes from a poor family: his father was a porter; football was to be his route to a better life, and he was on the cusp of realising that dream.
But a spate of injuries meant that the 2014-15 season was the last time Balan would play professional football. He was just 25. When his one-year contract with Pune ended, his injuries meant no other club signed him on. Pune FC itself folded in 2015. He also registered for the 2015 Indian Super League (ISL) auctions but went unsold.
Six years after the former I-League winning forward vanished from the national football scene, Balan says he is in dire straits financially, and working in his home town as a daily wage labourer, doing carpentry, painting and loading and unloading trucks. “I don’t have any work right now. My situation is very bad at the moment,” he said over the phone.
“Now I am working as a daily wage labourer in different places. My father worked as a coolie (porter), but he is too old to work now; my mother is a homemaker. I have a wife and a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and my family is dependent on me. Now with the coronavirus pandemic, the situation is even more difficult,” Balan said.
“My father and I have tried to approach the government. I tried for jobs, and met several officials. We even went to the Kerala sports ministry with my certificates, but they did not take it in a serious way,” added the former India youth international and Tata Football Academy alumnus.
Kerala Football Association secretary Anil Kumar reacted to the news, saying: “It is an unfortunate situation and we have forwarded his appeal to the state sports council with a request that it be brought to the notice of the state sports minister (EP Jayarajan). We are hopeful of a positive development soon.”
Kumar said there was a misunderstanding about Balan saying he was overlooked for government jobs. “I don’t think he applied for one when he was eligible for a sports quota job. The entire Santosh Trophy winning team (2018) got government jobs because they had applied on time. Balan possibly focused on his professional career when he could have applied for a job in the sports quota.”
Balan said that early into his professional career, he invested his savings on building a house for his family and helping in the wedding of his sister. He spent a few years living off his football earnings, he said, and looking for jobs, before taking on labour work. His other sibling— younger brother Bijesh Balan— is also a footballer and had previously played for I-League club Gokulam Kerala.
Bijesh, 25, recently got a job in Kerala Police as a head constable and is now undergoing a camp in Thiruvananthapuram before joining duty, he said.
“I don’t want to depend on him or anyone to feed my family. He is still very young and has only recently joined Kerala Police,” said the older Balan brother.
Balan said he hadn’t informed his parents that he was working as a daily wage labourer until last week when he decided to give an interview to Malayalam news channel Asianet News about his current situation. “When I went out to work, I used to go wearing my jersey with my full kit so that whenever my father asked, I said I was going out for practice. I never told my parents what work I was doing,” he said.
Asked whether he had approached anyone in the Indian football industry for help, Balan replied in the negative, saying: “When you’re fit, everyone wants you; but when you are injured, that is not possible.”
The All India Football Federation did not respond to requests for a comment.
Legendary forward IM Vijayan lamented the player’s current situation. He said: “He was an attacking player but burnt out at a young age. We hope some of the sports or government bodies extend much-needed help to him.”