M3 Features

Manchester dreams for city boys


May 5, 2014

To many, their dreams may seem a trifle ordinary. After all, dreaming of becoming a top league footballer is not beyond the realm of attainability, if one has the requisite talents. But if you are the son of an ex-sex worker, or if your mother earns barely a few thousand rupees a month from selling fries and fritters, such a dream can be a very big dare. 

But Rajib Roy and Arka Dey dared, and would be well on their way to achieve their dreams when they take off from Kolkata this month for Manchester, where they'll train at the famed Manchester United Soccer School. The two have made through months-long selection trials in Kolkata and Goa since August last year to figure in the final eleven of the 'Airtel Rising Stars', India's largest under-16 soccer talent hunt that's a collaborative venture between the telecom giant and Manchester United. The hunt was conducted across seven cities and featured 450 soccer-playing schools. In Kolkata, 64 schools participated in the talent hunt. A total of 23 young footballers from all the cities were chosen for the final selection camp held at Goa last month. Three coaches from Manchester United Soccer School (MUSS) evaluated their skills there and chose eleven of them, including Rajib and Arka, to go and train at MUSS.

Rajib and Arka have struggled through many seemingly insurmountable odds to reach this decisive stage. Rajib, whose mother was a sex worker till about ten years ago and now toils at a handbag-manufacturing unit to earn Rs 3,000 a month, has often had to go on half a meal a day to keep his dream alive. "With the money my mother would give me to buy food, I would purchase football boots and jerseys. It was tough, but I was determined to achieve my goal," he told TOI. Arka, a resident of Banerjeepara at Baranagar in North Kolkata, would also do the same. The two kids have never had the good diet that budding sportsmen require; even an egg has been a luxury for them. 

Arka's father Santanu, who used to play football himself, instilled this love for soccer in his son when he was just 5 years old. When Santanu died of liver cancer four years ago, Arka's world came crashing down. But he soon gathered his wits and decided the best way to honour his father would be to keep his dream alive. Arka's mother Suchandra started selling fish, shrimp, chicken and vegetable cutlets and fritters from a tiny shop near their one-room tenement to run the family earning only about 4,000 rupees per month.

Arka's talents were spotted by Krishna Gopal Sain, the games teacher of his school-Jyotinnagar Bidyashri Niketan. "I realized Arka had the potential to make it big in soccer and put him in Baranagar Sporting Club for coaching," said Sain. 

Rajib's dribbling and striking skills were noticed during the 'Durbar Football League'-a knockout football tournament organized by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (a prominent NGO working with sex workers) for children of sex workers from 56 'red light' districts across Bengal-four years ago. Rajib has been living and training at the Durbar's Rahul Vidya Niketan at Baruipur in South 24-Parganas for a year now.

Hope their dreams of becoming a league footballer get fulfilled in the near future.

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