From Vikaspuri to Liverpool Academy - Mohd Tanjeer is one step away from living his dream
From the Vikaspuri slums in Delhi comes a story of grit and determination that begs to be told. The story of how a lost young boy and a brave young man trying to make a difference did the near impossible over a span of a decade to fulfil a lifelong dream.
Sylvester Peter, the man who runs My Angels Academy (a trust that works for underprivileged children) could finally see one of his own angels - Mohd. Tanjeer - given wings by the DSK Liverpool International Football Academy in Pune. The 16-year-old boy is just one step away from living his dream, the only hurdle in his way - the high cost of the academy fees.
Tanjeer has come a long way since his days as a rag picker in the slums. Right from the young age of four, he was already living on the streets and already struggling with drug addiction - a fate that has befallen many kids in the area. A lifestyle of drugs, addictions and even murder is one they find hard to escape from.
Enter Sylvester Peter. A man who trains a number of kids from the slum on a daily basis was on a mission to give these kids a new lease of life and to live beyond the confines of the slum and prevalent social structures. A man who built the academy from scratch and refused funding from groups with political or religious connections, choosing to spend his own money instead.
"I had seen Tanjeer when I was training the other kids. He used to watch from afar while his neighbours played and trained under me. One day, his mother approached me and asked me to take him in. I salute her for being so bold and coming forward."
But getting getting Tanjeer to train with him was no easy task as he recalls.
"Tanjeer used to make money by following wedding baraats and collecting any money that was thrown during the procession. On some days, he would be so tired that he wouldn't come home and would sleep on the pavements.
"So, one day I followed him and found him at one such baraat and approached him with a smile and said, 'Hello, Tanjeer! I'll see you at practice tomorrow?'"
At first, Tanjeer wasn't regular. In fact, it took Peter five years to set him straight and ensure that he would be regular for practice.
"I started practicing with Sylvester bhaiyya when I was six or seven years old. I don't remember when exactly," Tanjeer speaks up in a shy voice. When he finally did pick up football, he was hooked.
Tanjeer, however, now has no doubts about the nuances of the game. "I play as a striker, generally on the right flank. My idol is Cristiano Ronaldo! I want to play like him when I grow up." The smile on his face is contagious as even Peter laughs and tells me that he can score with both feet but his strength is in his right foot.
But Tanjeer doesn't have the luxury of watching his idol play every week. "The kids here don't have the opportunity to watch football on TV. Even though the families here have cable connections, it's the parents who watch TV late into the night, denying the kids of the chance to even touch the remote control," Peter says. "But I do show a few big games at My Angels Academy when I can."
So what was Tanjeer's reaction when he heard about the chance to train at Liverpool’s Academy?
"I am very excited." But at the same time, he knows that his future is not entirely in his hands. The course fee is beyond his family's means and the My angels Academy cannot afford to send him either.
"I try to keep him focused and make sure he doesn't dwell too much on the money factor. I tell him that I have done my part and he has done his part. If he does get the chance to train at the Academy, that's well and good! But even if he doesn't get in, it isn't the end of the road for him. He will only have to work harder, and then one day maybe even beat the Liverpool academy team," he laughs.
Although Peter jokes about beating a Liverpool Academy team, the notion isn't far from the truth. Teams from My angels Academy have in fact taken part in various grassroot level tournaments and have even beaten other academy teams to win tournaments in Delhi. His team was so impressive that even Barcelona's youth team director Xevi Marce came over to congratulate him on his team being "the best in all the departments; including fitness, discipline and even kindness."
My Angels Academy kids have been selected for camps conducted by Barcelona and French club FC Metz. When you look at their background and lack of infrastructure, it is even more astounding that Peter has managed to get the best out of his kids.
"The people in the neighbourhood don't allow the slum kids to play in the playground. They even bribed the cops to get rid of me. So we started using the playground at 4:30 AM. This helped in more ways than one as the pollution at the time is very less. Delhi is usually covered in smog during the day making it unhealthy for kids to train then."
Tanjeer has been a regular at all his training sessions. "We train from Monday to Saturday - six days a week. On Sunday, we don't play football - just to unwind and relax. We have many activities with other kids at the academy (the angels) like playing Kabaddi and games like 'dog and the bone'. These days are filled with lot of energy and excitement and almost 120 kids have breakfast together."
If not the Liverpool Academy, what then? Where does Tanjeer see his future? He is, after all, a 16-year-old boy with a huge passion for football.
"I hope to be a professional football player one day. I would like to play for India." It's a shy response, but his determination to prove his talent is evident.
Peter has the last word on Tanjeer's remarkable journey.
"He once asked me, 'If clubs like Barcelona and Liverpool come here, why can't I go there and play?'"
"I just said, 'Why not?'"
If you wish to contribute and help Tanjeer, here are the bank details:-
My Angels Academy (registered Trust No 12110, date 31.12.2009)
Indian Bank Account Number 899504822
IFSC Code IDIB000V084 ·
Vikaspuri, New Delhi