Mumbai slum kids score scholarships for football training abroad

Three teenagers, who learnt to play football in the squalor of the south Mumbai slums, are now packing their bags for the UK and Germany, where they have been invited for training, all expenses paid

Like most kids in India, these three teens from the south Mumbai slums started out playing cricket and only picked up football about four years ago, never suspecting that it would change their lives forever. Thanks to their love for the beautiful game, the trio are now packing their bags for London and Germany, where they have been invited for training programmes, all expenses paid.

Kick off: Sunil Mohan (left) and Sunil Tulsiram are excited about going to London. This will be their first time abroad, but the only thing they’re nervous about is the flight. Pic/Suresh KKKick off: Sunil Mohan (left) and Sunil Tulsiram are excited about going to London. This will be their first time abroad, but the only thing they’re nervous about is the flight. Pic/Suresh KK

All three are students at a Hindi-medium municipal school in Colaba, and are part of the school’s football team as well. While Sunil Tulsiram Rathod and Sunil Mohan Rathod (not related) have been selected for a 16-day training session with professional English club, Queen Park Rangers in London, Kumar Rathod will head to Germany to learn football on a six-year full scholarship (see box).

Sunil Tulsiram (13) and Sunil Mohan (14), residents of the Cuffe Parade slums, were introduced to football in Std V by local NGO, Oscar Foundation. The NGO, which works for slum kids, not only taught them the game, but also provided shoes, kits and regular training to hone their natural talent.

Sunil Tulsiram, the son of a fisherman, remembers juggling academics and football, despite his family’s misgivings. “There were times when my parents asked me to quit football because they thought I will not be able to balance it with studies. But I persisted,” said the Std IX student, adding, “I would go to school from 7.30 am to 12.30 pm, then attend coaching and would only get to train for football from 4 to 6 pm. I had neither shoes nor a kit. Everything was provided by the NGO.”

But the effort paid off, and he has now won over his father Tulsiram as well. “I don’t even know anyone who has been to London. He will be the first. I never thought my son would achieve this. Now, I will allow him to pursue a career in football if he wants to,” said Tulsiram.

Game changer
Both he and Sunil Mohan played for their school team in an Under-16 tournament organised by the Milind Deora Foundation. It was there that their talent was spotted. Although their team lost the competition, the duo was selected for the training programme.

The boys would mostly practice on the YMCA ground or Oval maidan in the evenings and on weekends. Neither of the boys has ever gone abroad, and they are very excited to go to London.

“I have played matches for my school in several parts of the city, but the only time we got to go out of the city was for matches in Bangalore and Pune. We won the Under–14 final against the Pune team last year,” says Sunil Mohan, a Std X student.

“I’m not scared because my friends will be there with me,” said Sunil Tulsiram, admitting, however, that he was nervous about the flight to London: “I was told that it feels like sitting in a giant wheel.”

The boys will leave for London on August 16 and will return on September 1, thanks to the efforts of Oscar Foundation, which worked for 45 days to complete the necessary documentation and get the passports made. “They did not have birth certificates. Besides, because they live in slums, they did not have proper address proof, and their names were not the same on the ration card and in the school records,” said Ashok Rathod, founder of the NGO.

'Mum asked me to quit'

On August 20, 15-year-old Kumar Rathod (in pic) will leave the Backbay slums behind and fly to Germany, to begin six years of football training. All expenses will be covered by YouDreams Football Sports Management Pvt Ltd, which also organises the pro kabaddi championship. Kumar is one of 16 children from India to be selected for the German programme, but is the only one from Mumbai.

Kumar Rathod

“I have never even gone outside Mumbai to play any matches. But they spotted me at one of the school matches and selected me. My mother had asked me to quit football, and my coach had to convince her to allow me to play. Now she is proud of me,” said Kumar, who will enrol in Std X alongside the training.

The school principal, Ambersingh Magar, said, “These children have made me proud. There was a time when people chided me for encouraging students to play sports. But all the efforts have paid off.”

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