Manoj Kumar Mahesh was around 12 years old when he first started playing football. He recalls not liking the sport in the beginning, because he didn’t quite enjoy great control with the ball. But the Bengaluru-based kid decided to overcome his lack of skill with the game, and began training rigorously.
(From left) Navnita Veeregowda, Arbaz Pasha, Manoj Kumar Mahesh and Harshitha Turaganoor Raju, who have qualified for the Street Football World Festival to be held in June in Lyon, France
Four years on, Manoj, who is the son of an auto-driver, has achieved a remarkable feat. The Class 10 student, along with three other 16-year-olds — Navnita Veeregowda, Harshitha Turaganoor Raju and Arbaz Pasha — from Bengaluru, has been selected to represent the country at the Street Football World Festival, which will be held between June 28 and July 7 in Lyon, France this year.
Spurring them on is Dream a Dream foundation, a charitable trust working towards empowering children and youth from vulnerable backgrounds. The trust is currently hoping to raise Rs 5 lakh to fund the four teenagers’ trip to France. The funds raised will help support their training, football gear, visa costs and air travel.
Pavithra Kadanooru Lakshminarayan, one of the delegation leaders for the Indian contingent, said that all the four players had registered with the football programme of Dream a Dream and have been training under professional instructors for the last three to four years. They were shortlisted from among 2,000 students from different schools in Bengaluru. “This is going to be an experience of a lifetime for the children, especially because they are so passionate about football. I hope this festival will help them realise their dreams,” she says.
Manoj first heard about the football festival through his instructor and had to go through a series of tests to qualify for the event. “I was thrilled to have cleared them. I think it is a big opportunity and I am so glad. We are representing India and that according to me is the biggest opportunity of my life,” he says.
Meanwhile, Class 10 student Harshitha — a huge fan of football star Cristiano Ronaldo — hopes her story will inspire girls like her to do better in the sport.
Her invalid father is currently without a job, while her mother works in a garments factory. “I have been lucky that my mother encouraged me to do what I want. But I know a lot of girls (in my class), who cannot play because their parents do not allow them. I want to show them that we can move ahead not just through studies, but through an interest in sports too,” says Harshithal.
The 10-day football festival forms the prelude to the 2016 UEFA European Championship, which begins on July 10, and will bring together 500 girls and boys from disadvantaged communities from all over the globe. Apart from a series of tournaments, the event will also include several workshops to help the participants develop new skill sets.
To help raise funds for the cause, you can log in to www.impactguru.com