Football players cleaning chairs at cricket stadium to earn their living
Indore: In a clear manifestation of the apathy meted out to non-cricketing sport in the country, around a dozen football players, who have represented the state and the national team in the past, have been forced to clean chairs at Holkar cricket stadium – the venue of Indian Premier League (IPL) matches scheduled for May 13 and 15 - to earn their living.
On one hand where most of the cricket players earn in millions as they adorn a demi-god status, other sportsmen are forced to live a rather anonymous life, many at times even struggling to arrange even two squares of meals a day.
Sanjay Nidan, who runs Anand Football Club in Indore, represented the country in 1998 and has won several trophies too. But today with his 12 players and other members of the club, Sanjay is cleaning and washing the chairs and pavilion of the stadium.
According to Sanjay, Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association (MPCA) gives Rs 2.5 per chair for cleaning them. Apart from Sanjay, seven other football players who have played with him at the state and national level have joined him in the cleaning drive.
However, the MPCA feigned ignorance over the stark reality.
“We have given the cleaning contract to a local agency. It is difficult to track who all have been employed by the agency for the job,” MPCA CEO Rohit Pandit said.
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Helping Kerala lift the Santosh Trophy in April 2018, the midfielder has to make many rounds of government offices to get what the government has promised him - a tiny plot and a house.
Far away from his home at Pilicode, midfielder KP Rahul, 23, is working hard at a selection camp of Chennaiyin FC in Chennai. Playing in the Indian Super League (ISL) is his dream and ticket to escape poverty and the abject apathy of his home state Kerala.
Rahul has already proved his mettle, helping Kerala lift the Santosh Trophy after a 14-year gap in April 2018. An elated state government promised jobs for all the 11 players - who had defeated West Bengal - and a house for Rahul.
Two monsoons later, the midfielder is still living with his 70-year-old grandmother Narayani in a dilapidated leaky shed, which he calls home, at Pilicode. “All that is not on my mind now. I’m thinking only of football,” he said on phone from Chennai.
Pilicode grama panchayat president Sreedharan TV said Rahul’s family moved to Cheemeni village. “Here we had formed a people’s committee to help him, but he moved to Cheemeni and we did not pursue it,” he said.
Three years ago, the government gave Rahul’s mother KV Thankamani 10 cents at Chembrakanam, 5 km from Cheemeni. When the government gave Rs 2 lakh each to all players for the Santosh Trophy victory, he invested the money and another Rs 3 lakh he took as loan to build a one-room house on the plot. It is now shared by his mother, a daily-wage labourer; father KP Rameshan, a woodcutter; and his sister Rasna, an undergraduate student of Payyannur College.
“I don’t stay there because there’s no ground to practise at Chembrakanam. So I live with my grandmother,” he said. The leaky shed sits on four cents, on which all the seven children of Narayani have a stake. “I didn’t ask for the house from the government. But since it promised me a house, the word should be kept,” he said.
The District Collector had directed Pilicode Village officer to find a plot and allot it to Rahul. “The panchayat can help build a house only if the plot is in his name,” said the president. The promised job is also not in sight.
Rahul, who was the captain of Kasaragod team, first played for Kerala when he was in Class VI. While studying at the Pilicode Government UP School, he was picked up by the Vision India Project and given coaching. He represented Kerala in the Under-13 category. After high school, he joined Malappuram’s MSP Higher Secondary School, known for its success in football.
Then Rahul enrolled at the Baselius College in Kottayam for BA Malayalam course and went on to play for the Mahatma Gandhi University. “That’s when I was picked to play in the Santosh Trophy tournament,” he said. After a year or so, Rahul dropped out of college and joined SN College in Kannur because he wanted to train at Pilicode. However, it now appears there is hardly any room for him in his native village.
Winner of the National Football League with Mohun Bagan and Santosh Trophy with Maharashtra, former star forward Uday Konar is facing a fight for survival in the face of harassment from land sharks at the Colaba Causeway who are looking to evict him from his hawking space on the footpath opposite the Electric House.
Konar has knocked the doors of official agencies against intimidation and harassment to no avail.
In a decorated football career, Konar was part of the Mohun Bagan side that won the 2001-02 National Football League (now I-League), scoring a couple of crucial goals while combining with Bagan’s Brazilian legend Jose Ramirez Barreto. He was also part of the Maharashtra squad that won the gold medal in football at the 1999 National Games as well as the 2000 Santosh Trophy.
He has also played for Mumbai’s top outfits, Air India and Mahindra & Mahindra, apart from big teams in Goa such as the Churchill Brothers, Salgaocar FC and Sesa Goa.
It is a typical ordeal for a street vendor who gets targeted by powerful lobbies which use force and bullying tactics to evict them. In Konar’s case, local goons with the help of influential people in the area are trying to grab the hawking space at the Colaba causeway, from where his father ran a newspaper stall since the 1960s. They are also trying to grab control of all the spots allotted to his family in the close vicinity.
In the past couple of months harassment has turned more aggressive, manhandling Konar and even his wife on a couple of occasions, while mentally torturing them so that they give up their spots.
“I have two daughters to look after and this (hawking space) is my only source of bread and butter. These goons are using all means possible so that I give up my right to the spot. Some local influential people are also involved in helping them,” says Konar.
Konar’s father came to Mumbai in the 1960s and after dabbling in few businesses, he started his own newspaper stall on the footpath opposite the Electric House—the headquarters of BEST. He expanded to four more small stalls and got the BMC license for each one of them.
But ever since the harassment began, the former Mumbai football star was forced to shut shop completely and keep continuous guard of his stalls.
Since his birth, Konar’s life has revolved around these stalls which not only supported the family but also his football career.
“They have been threatening me with dire consequences for the last couple of months so as to bully me out of my ancestral hawking spots,” Konar says.
The other hawkers in the vicinity agree with Konar and say there is a group of people who is using bullying tactics to grab spots across the causeway. Konar’s friends say they have seen his family operate from the location for a long time, and ‘these new guys just want to fleece the space’.
“I have been fighting a lone battle along with my wife (Krishnaveni). I have also filed a police complaint when they manhandled my wife but no action has been taken against the harassment. I don’t know where to go now,” says a dejected Konar.
For the past couple of months, the spots have been vacant as Konar and his family haven’t been allowed to operate. And in order to ensure they don’t lose their only source of income to the miscreants, both Konar and his wife take turns to keep a vigil.
If a decorated city footballer faces such harassment then imagine the helplessness of the common man.
He was a part of history when ATK (then Atletico de Kolkata) lifted the inaugural Indian Super League (ISL) title in 2014. But six years down the line, footballer Biswajit Saha is struggling to make ends meet with his fast food joint close to shutting shop in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Without a club since 2018 when a severe hamstring injury during pre-season ruled him out of Mumbai City FC''s ISL campaign, left-back Saha has been plotting a return to the sport. But since it was taking time, the 34-year old who played all of ATK''s league matches except the semifinal and final in their 2014 campaign, had opened a fast food joint with his brother near his home in Bandel in Hooghly district of West Bengal.
"I did not play professional football after 2018. I was in Valencia (Spain) with the Mumbai City FC team for pre-season and there I got injured badly. We were supposed to return to Mumbai the next day, but I got injured the day before," Saha told IANS on Thursday.
"There was a Super Cup that year. I played one match, coming on as a second half substitute. 2018 was wasted, and after that I took time to recover. It was then that my brother and I decided to open this fast food centre to run the family," said Saha who is married with two daughters.
Saha, although nearing the twilight of his career, is practising now and feels he is in good shape. The plan was to take part in the Calcutta Football League (CFL) but with the COVID-19 induced lockdown bringing the world to a standstill, his desire to make a comeback seems a distant dream as of now.
"The lockdown has spoiled everything. The shop is not doing great. There are very few customers due to the health crisis. As far as making a comeback is concerned, I was working hard but I am not getting any younger. This (period of no football activity) will dent my chances further," said Saha who has also played for Mohun Bagan, Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa in the I-League after bursting onto the scene playing for George Telegraph.
Saha''s fortunes haven''t quite smiled on him since the 2014 ISL high. On loan at Sporting Clube de Goa, he was retained by ATK only for the franchise to turn their back later, leaving him in the lurch.
"I had rented the fast food shop before Durga Puja last year. The rent is all we have (to run the family). I have nothing else to do at the moment. My two daughters are six years and three years old," said Saha.
"I also have plans of taking up coaching. But at the moment, it is too far from reality it seems. I want to get back to playing top flight football. Take part in the CFL, and then maybe the I-League. I would have made headway had this lockdown not come in between and spoiled everything. Now, we are struggling to make ends meet," he concluded.