The sheer simplicity of football is what makes it the beautiful game and the most popular sport in the world. Its biggest superstars, including Pele, Diego Maradona and Cristiano Ronaldo, have all climbed the ladders of greatness and fame starting from humble beginnings.
So, perhaps, it is no wonder that many of football's success stories have simple starts -- just like the Sacred Heart Football Academy in the city that provides aspiring footballers with a platform to fulfil their dreams.
The academy, which started out as a summer camp to teach basics of football, was an initiative of Sacred Heart College, Thevara management.
It was inaugurated in 1997 by former Indian international footballer O Chandrasekharan, who represented the country in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. As the camp proved an instant hit, an academy was set up where footballers received regular coaching along with accommodation and education at SH School and College.
Over the years, the academy has produced a number of state and national players. Their secret? Training the youngsters with modern techniques and tactics as well as giving them physical and psychological conditioning. Just like every summer, this year also, around 120 students have joined the academy for the summer camp which takes place between 7 am and 9 am every day at the picturesque SH College Ground.
C C Jacob, former India international who was instrumental in starting the academy, said it is the professionalism that has set the academy apart.
"We divide children into categories according to their age and give them regular and professional coaching which enables them to excel both in academics and the game," Jacob said. The academy functions with children aged between six and 23. They also provide personality development classes after practice every day.
"Practice matches are played every day helping them to improve their game-intelligence, to handle tough situations properly and to make them familiar with the game," said coach Ravindran K, who is an AFC certified coach and AIFF match commissioner.
"The players will be taught good sportsmanship and the importance of team play. We believe that the success of this venture is measured by excellence not just on the field, but also off it," he said.
The college is planning to provide a gym for the academy by the end of the academic year. Akhil Joseph was the first player from the academy to play for India in the U-14 category. Abhishek Joshy, Kent Joseph, Akshay Joshy and Muhammad Hasil are others who have represented India.
"I did not get enough facilities to improve my game in Lakshadweep. I have learned new techniques and strategies here which I would have never learned from my native place," said Mohammad Aiman, a 14-year-old from Lakshadweep.
"We are committed to developing our children into technical players with a strong understanding of the game and at the same time teaching the fundamentals of teamwork and sportsmanship," said KA Raju, head of physical education at SH College.
AU Rajasthan Football Club, Rajasthan’s first sports academy dedicated to wards Football, was launched on Sunday by Renedy Singh, former Indian footballer and Captain of the national football team.
The club aims to provide professional training in Rajasthan along with putting state on the map of Indian football.
Spordy Ventures Pvt. Ltd, with support of AU Bank have come up to form this unique football training academy that will train youngsters from 6 years onwards to participate in national Leagues, Rajasthan State League and I- League 2nd divisions.
The club has recognition and support from Rajasthan Football Association & All India Football Federation. It will operate at a well-equipped football academy and training facility located at Jaisinghpura in Jaipur.
Speaking on the occasion, former India Captain Renedy Singh, who was an instrumental part of the title winning side in the Nehru Cup 2007 and AFC Challenge Cup 2008, said, “Football is the number one sport at international level and it is equally popular in North East. Children in those states start training in football at an early age and gain a competitive edge. Now, with increased exposure to international sporting arena, children from across the nation are showing keen interest in this sport. However, there is a dearth of professional academies to train them. This initiative will be a significant step towards providing professional training to these children and creating a conducing environment for this sport in India. I will always extend my whole-hearted support in all their endeavours.”
Dilip Singh Shekhawat, President, Rajasthan Football Association, said, “Many of you might not be aware that Rajasthan has a glorious past when it comes to football. Now, we want to revive that. With corporates like AU bank coming forward to support this cause, I am sure Rajasthan’s future in football is very bright.”
Biplab Ghosh, 63, cannot live without football. So much so that he even dreams about soccer during day. His passion for the game was so intense that Biplab often used to mortgage jewellery of his wife to conduct the famous Patu Mazumdar Football Tournament in Allahabad from 1984 to 1998.
To say football is in his genes would be an understatement as his father Amlendu Ghosh, another soccer lover, was founder secretary of the prestigious Allahabad Sporting Club. Ghosh senior had started the Mazumdar football tourney in 1945, two years before the Independence, a tradition his son followed.
In 1999 Biplab established Uttar Pradesh’s best football academy—Allahabad Sporting Football Academy—that is running successfully at the Anglo Bengali School ground in Sangam City. The academy was set up with an aim to let young footballers prove their mettle. While benefitting from the top coaches with Shadab Raza, former UP captain as the head coach, the academy has so far produced three international and more than 60 national level players. At present, the academy is being financed by Petroleum Sports Promotion Board.
“There is no chance of disassociating myself with football as I grew up listening about and seeing football even at my home. I am thrilled by the game and that’s why I am associated with it even after my retirement,” said Biplab, who is aiming to start a tournament for young footballers of Allahabad at a time when World Cup Football is set to start in Russia from June 14.
There would be 15-20 teams each in under-12, under-17 and under-21 tournaments, starting after June 20. “It’s an occasion to give young footballers to enjoy the game in the shadow of the World Cup commencement,” he says.
“I always wanted to let my passion for the game continue. Seeing young kids kicking the ball makes me feel so happy,” says Biplab, who doesn’t sleep without watching a football match every day. “I can live without food and water throughout the day but not without football,” he adds.
His passion for the game is evident as many players from the academy have made it to India’s top professional football clubs and academies. Around 25 trainees are doing jobs under sports quota in various government offices. Not only individually but also as a team, the academy has won many national and state level tournaments recognised by All India Football Federation.
Only this year, trainees like Utkarsh Kant Srivastava, Siemens Singh, Vikalp Jha, Arjun Kumar, Asher Peter, Sachin Sharma, Rahul Kisku, Arpit Das, Utkarsh Singh, Ankit Tiwari, Abhishek Yadav, Sachin Sharma, Naushad, Wasim, Utkarsh Singh, Gaurav Maurya made their present felt at the national level, whereas Rahul Anand, Vikas Nishad and Nitin Kaushal represented India in the under-15 Asian Pacific Football Championship at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Amit Kumar, Sheran Ayubi, Meesam Raza, Sujeet Kumar Sonkar attended national camps too.
“In fact, the academy has become a production house of footballers,” says Biplab with pride before turning away to give tips to an aspiring soccer player.
The Bidhannagar Municipal Sports Academy, funded by the Salt Lake civic body, has received accreditation from the All India Football Federation (AIFF), that puts them in the running for fielding teams in the junior national football league.
The academy opposite Bikash Bhavan has two football grounds and coaches around 300 students aged six to 18.
"We have issued the academy accreditation to the Bidhannagar Municipal Sports Academy. Now the academy is in the running for permission to play in the junior national football leagues under various age groups. The final decision will be taken in July," an AIFF official said.
The Bidhannagar Municipal Corporation hopes to field a team each in three categories of the Youth League matches, including Under-13, Under 15 and Under-18. Sixty youngsters have been chosen to represent the academy in the league matches. Thirty more will be shortlisted.
Mayor Sabyasachi Dutta said getting the affiliation had been an uphill task as the AIFF has a strict set of guidelines.
"We had to send all the details of the academy to the AIFF. All the facets came under strict scrutiny and points were allotted for different facilities," Dutta said.
The football school was started on December 19, 1999.
"AIFF rules stipulate that a football academy must have a field measuring between 120mX90m and 90mX45m and the quality of the surface must be good in terms of level/safety, uniform grass cover, maintenance and drainage. There are nine certified coaches who train the budding footballers," the mayoral council member in charge of sports, Prosenjit Sardar, said.
"The academy has two fields that have a natural grass turf and are equipped with floodlights. We also have a gymnasium for the players," Sardar said.
Priyam Dey, the general secretary of the academy, is looking forward to fielding teams in the 2018-19 session.
"The matches are likely to start from October and our teams will have Bidhannagar Municipal Sports Academy emblazoned on their jerseys," Dey said.
Mayor Dutta said the corporation would try to pump in more funds to ensure the best training facilities at the academy. "We don't take any monthly fees from the players. There is a small admission fee that is also waived in case of promising players from financially weak backgrounds," Dutta said.