If there was a pie chart comprising of sports in India, it would look like a large Pizza with the smallest slice taken away. The uneaten Pizza would represent Cricket, and the all the other sports would be crammed into the remaining space.
However, all hope is not lost for football fans in the country. Slowly but surely, there is emerging a challenge to the behemoth that is Cricket in India. Football is gaining a larger fan following each year, with more and more kids trying their hand (or feet) with the game.
Amongst the hordes of children scoring goals, making tackles, and kicking balls on dusty pitches all across the country, a couple of 10-year-olds from Bangalore stand out: Avaneesh Kamath and Treia Menon.
The sprightly young kids, who love the game as much as anyone, were spotted by scouts of Crystal Palace when playing in the Tata Motors School Football Championship 2015-16, and were given the opportunity to travel to London and train at the Premier League club for a period of 10 days.
Avaneesh and Treia spoke to SportsKeeda about their experience training and playing in the birth place of Football, and they had some pretty interesting things to say.
When did you start playing Football?
“I started playing Football at the age of 3,” Both kids say.
Family influence was extremely important, as it turned out for both kids, as Avaneesh first started playing with his father when they were living in the USA. Treia also picked up the game because of her family, who are proud Liverpool fans, who, Treia’s mother says, don’t miss a single game of theirs.
Avaneesh said, “In my apartment, we only play football, although I like cricket as well. I started to take the game seriously when I came to India.”
How did you get the opportunity to go to Crystal Palace?
“Greenwood High, where I used to study, participated in a tournament, and we were told the 10 best players in the tournament would get to play in the UK. Avaneesh played for the boys’ team, and I played for the girls’ team” Treia said.
“We won the tournament and they chose us as the best players.”
Avaneesh elaborated by saying “Once we won the Bangalore qualifiers, we went to play in Mumbai, and all we had to do was play well. I was one of the top players there, and the organizers liked what they saw.”
When did you know that you were selected?
Avaneesh’s father said, “When they announced the awards after the finals, Avaneesh didn’t get one. So we thought that it was just another tournament. But the scouts from Crystal Palace were impressed. And we were absolutely over the top when we heard.”
Treia’s mother told us about the merry-go-round that took place before the news was broken to them. She said “Treia left Greenwood High to join Inventure, and the concerned people did not have our contact as Treia had shifted schools. And Greenwood high was contacted, and luckily the people were able to contact me, and as Avaneesh had got the news much before, it came as a huge surprise to us.”
Who is your favourite player?
“Coutinho”, Treia immediately replied, before changing her mind almost instantly, and saying, “No, actually it’s Mane.”
Avaneesh said, “I am a Chelsea fan, and my favourite player is Diego Costa. My favorite defender is Gary Cahill.”
What position do you play?
Treia answered, “I’m a striker.”
Avaneesh said, “I play as a wing back. When I started I didn’t know where I wanted to play. My coach told me to play defence.”
Tell me about your experience with Crystal Palace.
Treia: “We had a teacher, who was called Neha, and she made us train with the Crystal Palace kids. She also took us to the Liverpool vs Chelsea game, and everyone was screaming and it was amazing.”
“Everybody was really friendly. I thought I knew everybody when I went there because everyone was so friendly. And the training was really hard.”
“There is a huge difference between the girls in India and the girls who play with Palace. I remember there was a 7-year-old girl, who could kick the ball onto the crossbar of a big goal, the one that men play with. That’s insane. Even I can’t do that.”
Avaneesh: “I played under 12, and they were physically much stronger. The style of play is extremely different. In England, they clear the ball much more, and they like to run. In India, we like to pass the ball a lot more than them.”
“It was a little difficult at first, but because I played futsal, I eventually got used to it. If Indian players work hard, I think we can match upto international standards.”
SportsKeeda also spoke to the supporting parents about their view regarding the kids’ football journey and they had some encouraging words to say.
Avaneesh’s father said, “ I am a Manchester United fan myself, and I played football in school. In Bangalore, there’s a football culture, and the infrastructure is really good. My friends in Bombay are not happy with the football infrastructure there. But in Bangalore, it’s different.
"There are a number of pitches, and good coaches like Mr. Sudhakar [ the coach at Greenwood high], and if the kids really want to play, all we have to do as parents is ferry them around.”
Treia’s mother said, “We are extremely proud of her. We are going to back her 100%. My husband Manoj is actually a hockey player, and he’s so passionate about sport himself. And anything to do with sports, we as parents would invest. And as long as she is committed and dedicated, we’ll back her. “