Sports

North Chennai’s vision for 2030: A football team to represent India in the World Cup

J Saktheeshwari was often the first to arrive at the Corporation school playground in Kalyanapuram, Vyasarpadi. The 12-year-old isn’t there to play football; sports, in fact, was the last thing on his mind at the time. He sold cut mangoes and peanuts there and only had eyes for potential customers. “But everything changed when the coaches, who noticed me, asked if I wanted to play too,” said Saktheeshwari, now 30 years old. He was talking about N Thangaraj and N Umapathy, who started the Slum Children Sports Talent and Education Development Society (SCSTEDS) in 1997. Today, Saktheeshwari is a football coach herself, and trains girls studying in Government schools in and around Vyasarpadi. The girls all play in the ongoing Baby League that SCTEDS, with support from the All India Football Federation, runs throughout November.

This is the first time SCSTEDS has organized the Baby League, a game format that has four categories such as Under-10, 11, 12, and 13. | Photo Credit: JOTHI RAMALINGAM B

This is the first time that SCSTEDS has organized the Baby League, a game format that has four categories such as Under-10, 11, 12, and 13. “We have eight teams playing under each category, 250 boys and women as a whole,” explained Umapathy. The children are from poor backgrounds in North Chennai. The idea, according to Umapathy, who played in the U-21 Nationals in the early 1990s, was to identify talent, and bring it to the notice of the Federation. “Baby League matches have been held in other parts of the State for a long time, but we want to focus on the great talent pool available in North Chennai,” he added.

SCSTEDS is registered as a League Operator on the Federation’s Golden Baby League mobile application, and as matches are played, the app is updated with information on each player, such as the number of goals scored. “It gives a clear picture of what they are capable of,” Umapathy said. Matches take place on SCSTEDS artificial turf at Vyasarpadi constructed by Chennai Corporation. The coaches already have a roster of talented players, and are set to provide them with focused coaching in the coming years. “Our vision is to create players who can represent India in the 2030 or 2034 World Cup,” Umapathy said. “If we start early, anything is possible.”

Baby League matches take place every Sunday, and will be held until November 27

Baby League matches take place every Sunday, and will be held until November 27 | Photo Credit: JOTHI RAMALINGAM B

Football is the life blood of the children of North Chennai. “There is a team in every corner,” Thangaraj said, adding: “It gives them a sense of purpose. Despite the lack of support from home — many of our children’s parents are every day who bet — they come to play at 6am every morning, go to school, come for training at 5pm then… At SCSTEDS, we use this sport as a tool for change. Not a day goes by that the players gather at a circle in the same place for tuitions after training.”

When Thangaraj and Umapathy started, they only had each other’s support. Today, they have four certified coaches from the neighborhood who continue their work. This includes 26-year-old M Dilipan, who trains children on the SCSTEDS turf as well as in Government schools in North Chennai. Dilipan has represented India in the U-13, 14, 16, and 19 tournaments.

Football is the life blood of the children of North Chennai

Football is the life blood of the children of North Chennai | Photo Credit: JOTHI RAMALINGAM B

His mother sold thank you to keep the family afloat, support his son’s dream. Dilipan lost his father early and maybe because of the hardships of life, he has gotten used to pushing himself even when the chips are down. This came in handy when he played for the country. “In 2006, I scored the winning goal against Pakistan as part of the U-13 Indian team,” he recalled. The tournament was held in Bangladesh, and Dilipan traveled by air for the first time. “I will never forget that trip,” he recalled. “I have a window seat.” Eventually he began flying more frequently for matches, including places like Iran, Dubai, and Sweden.

A muscle tear in his right leg ended his football career. “I can’t afford the treatment,” he said. He had to stop playing. However, today, he says he is happy to return to the game, albeit as a coach.

At SCSTEDS, football is used as a tool for change.

At SCSTEDS, football is used as a tool for change. | Photo Credit: JOTHI RAMALINGAM B

There is a difference in the way football is viewed in North Chennai and other parts of the country and the world, says Umapathy. “Here, the parents of the players see it as a means of survival, as something that will give their children a chance at a better life,” points out Umapathy, who got a job in the Income Tax Department through of sports quota. “That’s why the support of the government is so important. With better infrastructure, equipment and technical support, we can surely create world class players.”

There is a difference in the way football is viewed in North Chennai and other parts of the country

There is a difference in the way football is viewed in North Chennai and other parts of the country | Photo Credit: JOTHI RAMALINGAM B

R Parthiban (12), B Roshan (13), and Lankaanushika (10) also had the ball in the league match. However, for now, they are not worried about making it to the Indian team. Their teams have been doing well in the Baby League and they are looking forward to continuing their winning spree. Their favorite player? “Ronaldo,” said Parthiban and Roshan, while Lankaanushika said without batting an eyelid: “Thiyagu Anna.” He was talking about his coach C Thiyaragaran, who was the former captain of the SCSTADS team.

Going places

Baby League matches take place every Sunday, and will be held until November 27

The selected top performers will be given additional training from 5pm to 6pm daily

Football stars from North Chennai include S Nandhakumar captain of Odisha Football Club, Umashankar who plays for Sreenidi Deccan Football Club, R Yamini who plays for Delhi Football Club, T Karthi who is with Reliance Foundation Development League

Chandan Kumar

Author & Content Researcher for Entertainment & World Desk, reports on world cinema, web series and lifestyle. Like to explore trends in the film industry and build conversations about them. Also focused on discovering regional cinema and good storytelling above all! Official E-mail :- chandan.kumar06@brnews.co.in

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