14 under-privileged Mumbai footballers picked to play in Europe
Youngsters Ashraf Aslam and Raj Kishan Chavan and Viju Subhash Pawar, all gripped by World Cup fever, are excited along with the rest of their teammates
India may not be part of the ongoing FIFA World Cup in Russia, but a bunch of young under-privileged boys are all set to live their dream of playing football in Spain — the land of their heroes, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Non-governmental organisation OSCAR (Organisation for Social Change Awareness and Responsibility) Foundation's Football Programme, which uses football as a tool to encourage children and youth to complete their education, have selected a bunch of U-16 boys from their initiative to participate in the U-16 Donosti Cup tournament in San Sebastian, Spain, from June 30 to July 8. Youngsters Ashraf Aslam and Raj Kishan Chavan and Viju Subhash Pawar, all gripped by World Cup fever, are excited along with the rest of their teammates.
Ashraf, 14, who plays as a defender, is eager to emulate his Argentine hero Messi, who plies his trade for FC Barcelona in the Spanish League. His journey however, like most of his teammates, has been anything but easy. The son of a fruit seller recalled how he had a tough time convincing his parents to permit him to be a part of the OSCAR Foundation. "My parents did not want me to play football. They felt there is no use playing this game.
They used to hide my football boots whenever it was time to go for practice. But today, as I am heading to Spain, they are pleasantly surprised. Never in my dreams did I think that I would go abroad, and that too to play football. I hope I can play like Messi in Spain," Ashraf, a Class IX student of the Hashmi High School in Bhendi Bazar, told mid-day after a practice session at the Cooperage Stadium recently.
Ashraf's teammate, Raj, who studies at Holy Name High School, Colaba, adores Ronaldo. "It's a privilege to visit the land where Ronaldo plays his football [for Real Madrid]. I was ecstatic when the Portugal captain scored a hat-trick against Spain," says Raj, who plans to have a trial with Goan club Churchill Brothers on his return from Spain. Unlike the rest of the team, this is the second international trip for left winger Viju, who visited the United Kingdom last year. He recalls his meeting with Manchester United star Juan Mata last year, paved way for their visit to the Spanish city of San Sebastian. "Mata played with us during that trip. During an interaction, we taught him Hindi and he taught us a few words of English. We taught him to say Namaste [welcome] and suprabhat [good morning]. In fact, after watching us play, it was Mata who recommended us for this competition in Spain," says Viju, son of a fisherman. He recently passed his SSC exams. The team will play under coach Kumar Chandar Rathod (25) an AIFF D-License holder, who has been training this bunch for the last two years.
Teaching life skills
"These kids come from the slums of Dharavi, Ambedkar Nagar in Colaba and other such areas. They are prone to falling prey to gambling, alcoholism and other bad habits. We have been teaching them life skills through football," says Kumar, previously a tea seller, who completed his English Premier League Level-2 coaching in 2016. Teaching them the game however, was easy, doing their documentation for this trip, very tough, says Kumar. "Firstly, it was tough to make their passports given their homes are not permanent residences. Then, the parents feared that their kids may become victims of child trafficking. I had to give them my example of being a poor tea seller who used to gamble before football changed my life. I hope football changes their lives too," adds Kumar.
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