Millennium Post

A ‘will’ for the ‘way’

Youth Football Club, Jalandhar
A beautiful scene can be witnessed here daily. Groups of young lads, dressed in football costumes, walk into the ground of  Government Middle School in Rurka Kalan. A small village 10 km from Phillaur, around 25 km from Jalandhar city, which is fast turning into a nursery of the beautiful game, a welcome change from a village infamous for high levels of drug addiction and alcohol abuse. Now, it’s famous for fitness levels. Though their personalities are visibly different, but the purpose is one, changing lives through football. A bunch of zealous friends established the Youth Football Club (YFC) in 2000 with a purpose of driving youngsters away from drug addiction. And 13 years on, the number of football trainees has reached 400, six other open centers are being run, and YFC has become an example of how sports can bring about social change. Paulo Coelho’s oft-repeated quote ‘When you really want something, the whole universe conspires in helping you to achieve it’- finds an echo in this story. To start with, it was hard just collecting the prize money worth a few thousand rupees. And now, a football empire is slowly but surely taking shape. ‘We started by organising football matches in the village, and when people around the area started taking interest, many teams were formed in 1998. These teams participated in many rural and urban football contests and started winning monetary prizes. And we bought football kits for children. This was the first stage where children started taking interest and we got motivated,’ told Jasdeep Singh Bhogal, a volunteer since the beginning of the club. Another volunteer and one from that bunch of friends, who established the club, Sandeep Singh Sandhu, added, ‘We collected money as part of the Lohri festival tradition, ran paid cycle parking stands during melas around this area, and ran all kinds of errands to make money to start the YFC.’

It took time to grab attention, but the commitment and positive results brought support. ‘We are now getting most of our funds from NRIs,’ says Gurmangal Dass, president of the club and the man behind the whole idea. He adds, ‘In 2001, we formalised the constitution of the Youth Football Club, and then we got some land from the panchayat. After proper grass work, in 2005 the YFC complex was built where we have a proper office and accommodation for 40 trainees. The same year a multipurpose gym was made; in 2009 the stands and dressing rooms were constructed adjacent to the ground; in 2010 a computer and vocational centre for girls was established; and now a guest house for foreign coaches and the players is being built. YFC has its own bus too.’ The success of the club can also be judged from the fact that its teams are winning tourneys all around the state and some of them have managed to go abroad. But above all, Anwar Ali - the highest paid defender who is playing for Mumbai Football Club, hails from this drug-abused village and trained at YFC. He has emerged as a real hero for these young boys to work hard on the ground rather than waste life on drugs.

The multipurpose gym is available for Rs 100 per month. ‘Having seeing YFC’s commitment towards the village, an NRI opened this gym in his son’s memory,’ informs Jasdeep, a national university level football player, who is now 33 and settled in a job as physical education teacher in a government school in the village. He has been serving the club voluntarily and is also a trainer who devotes time to the boys daily. Recalling how the club was established, Jasdeep says, ‘Some of us were football players at different levels and some others were fans. But majority of the youngsters were not coming to the ground and fell into the drug trap. There was not a single day when we did not discuss this issue in our group. And one day, we organised a football tournament just like that. There’s been no looking back since.’

Sant Baba Hazara Singh Academy, Gurdaspur

Rurka Kalan may get more of the limelight, but it’s certainly not the only story from here that proves how sports can be a change agent. At Sant Baba Hazara Singh Academy in Nikke Ghuman village of Gurdaspur, the objective is the same, but the characters are different, and arguably more interesting. The academy was established by Sant Baba Hazara Singh, a preacher. It was founded in 2002, with the objective that the youth stays away from drug addiction and alcoholism. ‘Sant Baba Hazara Singh came here in 1988, and the huge gurdwara was established. Later on, he realised that youngsters are more inclined towards drugs and he opt for football to divert young minds away from this addiction. I believe that as of today, this is the first football academy run by any gurdwara in India,’ coach Harinder Singh tells.

The sant may have died, but the academy’s list of successful footballers is growing longer under the patronage of Gurdwara Trust chairman Amreek Singh. Around 100 boys play football for the academy along with their studies; 30 boys have been given hostel facility, and the Punjab sports department provides them Rs 60 per day as diet money. Four talented under-16 boys have been given a scholarship by Reliance under which they will be going to USA next month. Coach Harinder tells, ‘Initially, it was tough to bring boys to the ground, but now the whole area has realised that they have a special talent as 25 footballers are travelling the world thanks to the game. This region is special anyway, perhaps because the populace here is blessed with good height and strength.’

Amreek Singh recalls the starting days, ‘As it is a border area, majority of the population is economically backward, and that’s the main reason why drug addiction was rampant. We will change that!’ Many of their trainees have made to different categories in Nationals while few have also flown to the USA for a sponsored training camp. Now all eyes are on the Under-17 world cup as four of them have already in the National camp.

Hockey Nursery, Fatehgarh Sahib

Bassi Pathana, a small town in Fatehgarh Sahib district of Punjab. The nondescript town boasts of producing first ever sewing machine in the country, but infamous for the lowest sex-ratio in the state and drug abuse among young bloods. Taking this as a challenge, a reputed Maje family has pledged to serve the town. With vocational centres for girls, medical camps for olds and career counseling for youngsters, Meher Baba Charitable Trust has travelled a long way. ‘With an eye on hitting out at drug abuse, a project of hockey nursery was also started in October 2009 to promote the game of Hockey among under-previleged children (age group 6-10 years) and to develop new talent for the game and keep them away from drug-abuse,’ said HS Meje, an octogenarian, who is holding the light at the end of this tunnel.

If the trust is to be believed, this is the only place in India where hockey trainees as young as six are being groomed. ‘Even Sport Authority of India enrolls a trainee when s/he is above 12. But we believe it’s important for the kid to hold the hockey stick during his tender years,’ said the academy coach. His coach informed, the coaches for the program are drawn from former national and international players who bring with them tremendous skills, commitment and sensitivity towards this unique programme. Children are being groomed to take Hockey as a profession and to encourage them to bring back the lost glory of Hockey. Teams are taken to outstation locations for training on Hockey Astro Turf grounds. A nine-day long winter hockey training camp and an open house has just concluded on 5 January.
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