From butcher's shop to ISL threshold: Delhi Dynamos teenager thrives in relentless pursuit of 'Happiness'
Football in India has grown exponentially over the past few years. While the introduction of the Indian Super League helped attract a number of top foreign stars to the country, the larger debate was about how it could help the Indian players get more opportunities.
For the first three seasons, we saw the ISL being conducted in the first half of the season, while the I-League was played in the second half, allowing the clubs from both the leagues to play the same pool of players across different parts of the year.
However, the onset of the 2017/18 season saw a huge change, as two more sides were added to the ISL, lengthening the tournament to a five-month affair, that would run simultaneously with the I-League. This freed up a lot of space in the two top divisions, as a number of players, who were not getting the opportunities earlier, to sign for different clubs.
To add to that a number of ISL sides (FC Pune City, Delhi Dynamos, Kerala Blasters, FC Goa, Bengaluru FC, Jamshedpur FC and Chennaiyin FC) have also come up with their reserve teams, in order to field them in the I-League 2nd Division. This afforded even more opportunities for the younger players to play competitive matches on a regular basis.
One player who has got a big opportunity due this is Happy Singh, who hails from Faridabad, Haryana. The 17-year-old forward has already made 14 appearances for the Delhi Dynamos B team in the I-League 2nd Division, scoring six goals so far.
A tragedy puts the family's daily bread in jeopardy
Not only has the overall growth of the Indian football ecosystem helped Happy get more playing time, but it has also aided him in feeding his family.
Happy hails from a modest background and had been pursuing his football dream for five years now. His father had played the sport at the district and the zonal level and happens to be the main influence in the teenager's initial interest in the beautiful game.
Happy's father could not continue with the sport for too long, though, as he was not earning much, and had to devote his time to feed his own family. Hence, he started working as steel-cutter in a factory.
However, tragedy struck a couple of years ago, when he had to undergo an operation after suffering an accident at the factory, where a heavy machine fell on his foot, while he tried to save a co-worker from the same fate by pushing him away from the spot.
"My father's employers were kind enough to pay for his operation, but he could not work at the factory again," Happy said to Sportskeeda. "He could not take up a job that would put too much physical pressure on him. Hence, he took up a job as a security guard.
"It's not much, but he it mostly requires him to sit for the majority of the day, so a family friend got him the job," said Happy.
The sleepless nights
Having played for the Punjab Sports Club in Haryana earlier, Happy made it to the Delhi Dynamos u-18 team. However, being an u-18 player does not pay much, and he had to work doubly hard to pay his bills.
The youngster followed a rather hectic regime, where he had to go for training early in the morning, and then work a part-time job at a butcher's shop at night. He had to spend around seven hours, working at the shop, from around 6 pm to 1 am, to earn a meagre wage of Rs 250 per day.
The the main issue with this schedule was that he had to attend training at 8 am the next day as well.
"I had to get up early morning (6 am) and go for training again. Firstly I had lack of sleep, and on top of that, I would have already been tired before I went for training. Two hours standing in a metro isn’t really something that you want to do before you start the training session," said Happy. "But I wanted to play football. I couldn’t just leave this because of these difficulties. So I carried on."
In February, Happy got an offer that changed his life...for now, at least. His performances with the u-18 side helped him gain entry into the Dynamos reserve team, that ultimately changed his fortunes.
No more did Happy have to continue his dual role of training in the morning and working a part-time job at night. Although he received a four-month contract from the Delhi Dynamos (from February to May), life has taken a turn for the better in Happy's case.
"Now I don’t have to spend time at the shop for the extra bucks. I can take my daily rest and go for training early morning," said Happy. "Also, now I can send some money back home, so my parents can also lead a little easier life."
Happy may have had a difficult time in the early stages of his footballing career, but he has certainly overcome the darker days, to stake his claim in one of the top clubs in Indian football. The17-year-old has even been given the captain's armband on certain occasions.
At 17, he may still have miles to go, in the climb up the footballing ladder, but Happy has already made a mark. For now, though, the young striker seems to have both his skill-laden feet firmly placed on the ground, as he looks to make it to the Dynamos' senior team in the next two years.