Young Kolkata footballers live their dreams in Bangkok

July 15th, 2011 - 4:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Arsenal Bangkok, July 15 (IANS) It was no less than a joy ride for the 18 Kolkata youngsters who boarded an airplane for the first time and landed here to play in the Yamaha ASEAN under-13 Football Tournament, which kicked off Friday.

The boys at their impressionable age have no other passion than just playing football and their dreams have only the place for the likes of Christiano Ronaldo and Leonardo Messi.

They had beaten teams from six states to qualify for the honour to represent India in the finals here.

Dressed in their red team jerseys, their bleary eyes shone with excitement as they peered out of the windows of their team bus. The travel fatigue soon gave way to the joy of being on their first “bidesh yatra” (foreign tour) and they appeared struck by the moving scenery.

“It was fun travelling on the plane. Our ears hurt a bit but we enjoyed the flight. We are first from our families to travel overseas. We liked whatever we saw here so far, it is so clean,” said Joyabrata Debnath, a midfielder.

Their humble background never came in the way of their single-minded pursuit and their sheer dedication saw them strike a whopping 23 goals in the qualifiers in India. The team, selected from several academies in Kolkata, has been playing together for over a month now to prepare for the tournament.

“The minimum margin we won was by 3-0,” said Saif Hussain, an enterprising forward, with unmistaken pride.

“We hope we can do as well here. Our coach, Mrityunjoy Hazra, has worked on our technique, defence and how to switch positions. We are confident of doing well.”

Many of them stay far away from the eastern metropolis, travelling as many as three and half hours each way to ‘Friends of the Stadium’ ground, next to Salt Lake stadium, for practice. But they don’t complain.

“We love playing football. I travel by train and then by bus to reach the ground, but that’s fine as long as I get to play,” said captain and striker Premananda Singha, whose father is a carpenter.

Each of them has a story to tell and at such a young age they already have experienced the highs and lows of life, their love for football remained the driving force and a sweetener.

Premananda, for example, came agonisingly close to making the chosen list of 18 children who are to travel to London to train with England Premier League side Arsenal, but a change of position in the final list had cost him the great opportunity.

He only has a faint smile and a shrug to make light of it.

Saif, son of a Urdu teacher at a madarsa and the only one in the team to speak snatches of English, is the only one among five brothers to play football. There was some apprehension in the family after his 18-year old cousin had died playing football with friends when the ball hit his chest while going for a header.

Ask whether the incident had any adverse impact on his playing football, Saif dismisses it with a quick “no.” Football was the only sport he wanted to play.

The boys keenly follow their national heroes and rate goalkeeper Subrata Pal and striker Sunil Chettri among their favourites.

The team’s goalkeeper Debopriya Das idolises Pal and hopes to be like him some day.

“Seeing my good height my coach suggested that I should become a goalkeeper and I love being one. I really like Subrata Pal, his technique and the gripping is really good.”

Argentina and Brazil are the overwhelming favourites among the international teams and they ensure they follow their favourite international stars in the La Liga and UEFA matches. “We get to learn so much by simply watching them play,” they say.

And yes, like all Kolkatans, the side is split in their support for famous Mohun Bagan and East Bengal clubs and hope to play for them.

Saif, however, wishes to play for Manchester United some day. “Manchester United is my favourite team, so I hope I get to play for them someday. Great players, like Rooney and Christiano Ronaldo played for them,” he said.

Apart from football, it is music that interests the youngsters, with Manna Dey’s Bengali songs among their favourites. Don’t they like any current songs? One of them coyly whispers “Murder II songs” and the group will break into the peels of laughter.

They have not spoken to people back home after arriving here. “We can’t talk to them as it is very costly to make an international call. Hopefully, we will return with some good performance,” said Premananda.

(Pragya Tiwari can be contacted at

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