Thunderous volleys, enchanting dribbling skills, hopes and prayers, and a blend of tears and celebrations galore – FSV Arena in the outskirts of Bengaluru witnessed everything that makes football a religion rather than just a sport.
The India Football Tour has come to its conclusion, and it was just a five-a-side football tournament. But representing India at a global platform like the F5WC World Cup at Beijing in May 2017, made it an eventful night, with budding football talents in India showcasing their skills and talent, like never before, as if they wanted to make the event a wake-up call for India, a place where talent and flair for football have remained hidden, for the most part of the decades that passed since the country’s independence.
Team Mumbai were the best among the lot, and they lifted the trophy, thumping Pune 4-0. Mumbai will now represent India at the the World’s largest amateur five-a-side World Cup, at Beijing in May. This is indeed a great moment for the young guns from Mumbai, but there is more to it than what meets the eye.
Over 300 teams from all across India fought fiercely for the title, and the best among the lot was crowned the Champions. But it was not just about winning, and what the different participants of the event went through to reach such an event, make for inspiring tales.
It was an opportunity for thousands of youngsters to dream big and explore more about the sport after a long wait. They had a common dream, though - to change the landscape of football in India.
In the group stages of the final battle for the IFT crown, at the FSV Arena, in Bengaluru, a bunch of suave teenagers representing Panvel, took a 10-0 thrashing from Delhi. But even after their defeat at the hands of a stronger side, they were not low on confidence.
They knew that they were no match for the experience that some of the stronger sides like Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune or Hyderabad had. Yet, they were ready to battle it out, and the platform and the exposure that they got meant more to them than just a victory.
Sportskeeda caught up with Prasad Patel, the Manager of team Panvel and Azmath Rasheed Pathan, their captain.
#1 Why are you here, and how do you take this defeat?
Prasad Patel: For our boys, IFT is a big platform. We came here to play. 10-0 was harsh on them, but they had their good moments during the game too. We came here to learn something new, and we were successful in doing that. In the next year, we will stage a strong comeback, and we will give it our best. For us, a draw is as good as a win, and we will try to do just that in the upcoming matches.
Azmath Rasheed Pathan: Football doesn’t hold any significant value in the places that we come from. There is no exposure and this event gives us the drive and motivation to follow our passion for football and to try and achieve something.
The way Panvel fought tooth and nail to gain some reputation and exposure is indeed motivating. But there are more riveting stories that make IFT one of the best platforms for budding football talents in India.
Financial difficulties and lack of approval for the game didn’t dissuade a group of teenagers from the slums and villages of Navi Mumbai to take part in an event as big as IFT. They travelled day and night, and reached the FSV Arena, to prove a point – they will fight hard, and if they have a chance they will pave the way for a football revolution in the slums where they come from.
#2 What did you feel when you took part in such a big event? – “Quotes from individual players.”
Tamdev Sharath Khairnar: This is a big platform for us to showcase what we have got. I started wearing football boots, at the age of 4. In our village, except for a few local tournaments, we haven’t had such an opportunity to take part in such a big event. This is a dream come true, thanks to this football tour and our Manager Cajetan Dias.
Rajeev Ashwini Pandey: This is a huge platform for us, and if it was not for IFT and our Manager, we wouldn’t come this far. We would be in our village, playing football, like any other day, but with no room for any improvement. It was not even in my wildest dreams to play on such a big platform.
Cajetan Dias, Navi Mumbai’s Coach has much bigger dreams for his young players. He wants them to go the extra mile and defeat the odds stacked against their future in football.
#3 What was your vision when you came to IFT with the youngest team of all?
I started my career as a footballer from the slums, just like these teenagers. I was raised in an orphanage, and I had a rough patch trying to manage my time between football and daily bread. I believe that today’s youth will be tomorrow’s future. And their future has to come through their experience.
I brought them here because they will have something precious to learn with their experience here. They will have a lot to learn from this. These small-sided games play a vital role in a player’s development in becoming a professional footballer.
#4 What is lacking in Indian football at the moment?
Players in India are now focussed on getting Government jobs through the game. Ultimately, it is a sport. Once you take up a job, and if you don’t play any longer, the player in them fades away. Football is as good as Olympics with national teams from all continents of the globe participating in the FIFA World Cup.
These five-a-side tournaments will give the young players in India, the much-needed boost to take up football as a serious profession and the Government should encourage it, rather than just doling out jobs.
Navi Mumbai and Panvel did have a tough time competing in the event against stronger opponents. But there are other teams, like Bangalore’s Al-Fateh FC, who knocked out the last year’s representatives from India to get into the final leg of the tournament.
#5 With legends of Bengaluru FC doing the rounds in India, how did it feel like to represent a city like Bengaluru in five-a-side World Cup qualifiers? -
Quotes from individual players
Zaib Sherief: This is a huge honour for us to represent Bengaluru. We are all youngsters, and we are pumped up. We were waiting for such an opportunity since a long time now. This event made us work harder on our tactics.
The way BFC reached the AFC Cup finals motivated us to strive towards our goal. Since last two months, we have been training on a daily basis, to make sure we do our best for our city. Time is a problem when it comes to training.
My father is an entrepreneur and I am working with him. It is very hard to get everyone together to practice every day, but we do it anyways. We love the game so much, and when you get a shot at representing India in a five-a-side World Cup at Beijing, what else can you ask for?
Nihal Colaco: We are extremely pumped up. The tag that you are representing Bengaluru gives you a special recognition. Bengaluru FC have set their standards high, and we felt like it was an opportunity for us to show what we have got. It is never too late for football, and IFT is a symbol of that.
It was not easy for the organisers to set an event as big as IFT for the budding football talents in India. Sportskeeda also caught up with the organisers, the masterminds of the event.
#6 What motivated you to strive forward and organise such a big event for football in India?
Quotes from organisers
Kush Bahuguna: I come from an army background. My father served in the Indian Army. I played during my school and college days and this is something that I have always wanted to do.
It is always about passion and I believe passion can only survive if it’s sustainable. There might be a business element to it, but at the end of the day, the way people cheer for the team and the positive hopes that these players have is all that matters.
Sree Harsha: BFC has inspired the football talents in India to dream big. There were days when cricket used to dominate the proceedings in the field of sports in India. But now, there is no dearth of artificial turfs with facilities that have global standards. We are just part of the process. The entire city and country is moving towards football. It is going to take a lot of time, but we will get there.
Sri Ram: Couple of teams came to me, after they got knocked out, and said this was one of the best tournaments that they have ever featured in. They also promised me that in the coming year, they will come back as a stronger side.
Every team who came here, believe that this is a platform for them to redesign the future of football in India. And this is the feel that moved us the most to work towards organising such an event.
Itika Singhal: Travelling to each city, and learning the landscape of football in those areas was not a cakewalk. It was a difficult task. We know that we are not doing something as big as ISL here, but we are happy where we are right now.
We are getting messages from footballers in Kerala and even places like Jammu and Kashmir. There is a sense of competition and a need to prove themselves. This was the drive behind such an initiative.
#7 What moved you the most in the course of events?
Kush Bahuguna: There is a team that came from Guwahati. They came to us after a long journey, motivated to do well. They were just kids who wanted to do something big. Lack of experience took a toll on them, and they were defeated by Hyderabad, despite them being a strong and motivated side.
The moment they lost, the whole members of the team, along with their manager, started crying on the field. We had to stop the entire event and console them for as long as 30 minutes. This proves what this game means to many youngsters in India.