BANGALORE, October 10: No marks for guessing 14-year-old Akash R.’s favourite football player. It’s Lionel Messi of course. But the thing about Akash is that he grows restless while watching football matches on television. “I like playing more than watching the game on TV,” he says.
Hundreds of football players in the city are hoping that the launch of the Bengaluru Football Club (Bengaluru FC) will spur renewed interest in the sport and trigger a new football era in the city. But even as the two matches played by Bengaluru FC last month drew thousands of spectators, physical education teachers, students and school managements emphasise that there is still a long way to go before the sport becomes “popular” in the city.
Milan R. (12) from a city school, said his principal prohibited them from playing football in the school after a student was hit by a ball. “We go to a playground near our house and kick the ball to our heart’s content. It is a great game,” he said.
But, most schools in the city cite the absence of necessary infrastructure to promote football among their students. C.J. Ajay Kumar, principal of Ebenezer International School, confessed that the reason most schools do not support football, is the space required for a football ground.
Only schools that have a football ground can encourage the sport by conducting regular tournaments.
Francis Kumar, head of the Physical Education Department of Baldwin’s High School, said even though the media focuses only on sports such as cricket and tennis, he said football is a game that “fascinates” children. Imran Ali Baig, a physical education teacher of Delhi Public School South, emphasised the need for mentors to help students get over the mental block against pursuing sports like football.
Coaches also confess that the sport continues to be a male-dominated game even in this cosmopolitan city. Sudarshan W., co-founder of PITCH, a company that coaches children in football at various centres across south India, points out the need to encourage young girls to take to the sport at an early age.
While students of private schools play football on their school campuses or on playgrounds, hundreds of students from economically weaker sections have been playing football at the sports ground near the Bangalore East railway station.
Praveen Kumar (18), who plays football at this ground, says, “The craze for football is electrifying in our locality. Here everybody grows up with dreams of being a good football player. All we need is a ball to kick,” he says.
However, he candidly admits that after undergoing training and attending coaching classes, they dream of jerseys and branded shoes. “But they are very expensive. We cannot buy all of it unless we get somebody to sponsor us,” he says.
Last month, Parikrma Foundation, which runs three schools for underprivileged children, organised an inter-school football tournament in association with Menzies Aviation. A total of 16 schools participated in the tournament. The winner, Ryan International School, walked away with the Equality Cup. CEO of Parikrma Foundation Shukla Bose said they decided to start the tournament three years ago and are enthused by the participation.