New Delhi : “If football has taught me anything it is that you can overcome anything if, and only if, you love something enough,” FC Barcelona star Lionel Messi once said.
The beautiful game has given us plenty of stories where players have overcome poverty, risen through the ranks and gone on to become legends, imprinting their footprints in the hall of fame forever.
However, far from the madding spotlight of European football, there are a bunch of kids, who are perhaps fighting even greater diversity in their struggle to make ends meet for their loved ones.
For around 60 kids in Kolkata, the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee is acting as a ray of hope, as they look to dribble their way past the hardships that life has hurled at them.
Formed in 1992, the Durbar Committee aims at bettering the lives of sex workers in the city, and their children.In a recent development, Durbar Committee has been granted the license to field its team in the U-13 and the U-15 I-League. Comprised mainly out of the children of sex workers from the Sonagachi area in Kolkata, the Durbar Committee also helps children from other backward strata of the society – some are the sons and daughters of fishermen, labourers, and migrants.
“Football is one way of keeping the kids off the streets. The sport keeps them focused, and away from harm,” says Biswajit Mazumdar, who is a coach of the Durbar football team.
“We are not only interested in helping the kids become better footballers. We are also looking to provide them with proper education so that they can get jobs in all walks of life when they grow up,” he said.
“Of course the U-13 and U-15 I-League license is a big boon for these kids. We have played plenty of local and international tournaments. But for the first time, they will be able to play in a regulated tournament that is monitored by all the big clubs in the country. Perhaps some of them can even make it as top professional footballers,” he added with a smile.
The passion to play football has always been there in these kids. However, what has been lacking is the means to obtain proper coaching and facilities. The U-15 team striker Sujay Adhikari has been playing the beautiful game since he was around 10-years-old. However, he has not always had access to a proper training ground.
“Before, we never really played on proper fields. Due to the poor condition of the pitches, we often used to pick up small injuries. Even our boots would not last long due to the nature of these pitches,” said Adhikari.
The youngster, who is the son of a sex-worker in the city, went on to state that his mother has always tried to support him with whatever he needed, in order to play football. However, affording equipment for her son is easier said than done.
“My mother has been very supportive of me playing football. She dreams of me becoming a top footballer one day. But the reality is that it is hard for her to afford equipment for me. Good boots are not cheap these days,” he said.
However, after coming under Durbar’s wing, the youngster feels a lot more secure and can concentrate on his game, rather than on how he would procure equipment for the next training session.
“The people at Durbar have really helped me a lot. Not only have they provided us with a good training ground now, but they have also given us good equipment. So we feel that we can really improve our game now,” he said. “Also, playing in the U-15 I-League will really put us on the same pitch as the other top players from the country, so we are raring to go.”
The U-13 and U-15 boys’ team may just be taking their baby steps in national football, but the Durbar Committee has also started to take similar strides towards women’s football. A number of the female students who have shown interest in the sport have been brought together on the pitch, and are receiving training from the coaches.
“I have been playing football here and there for a few years now. But this is the first time that I am receiving proper training. I hope I can improve my game and maybe even play for India one day,” said 14-year-old midfielder Swapna Haldar, who idolises Cristiano Ronaldo.
However, maintaining so many teams in the top strata of junior level Indian football is not an easy task, and the administrators at Durbar are feeling the pinch.
“We have provided facilities, equipment, and training for the kids. But playing in top competitions like the I-League is not a cheap affair,” said Mazumdar. “We are looking for financial sponsors from anywhere so that these kids can keep pursuing their dreams.
“The entire society has kept these kids in the dark. At the end of the day, all we want to do is give them a ray of hope,”concluded Mazumdar.