With a population of around 6,000, Gouthampura has produced 285 State football players
For some, football is a hobby; for a select few, it is a livelihood. But, for the boys of Gouthampura, football is what they eat, drink and breathe.
Their ground may not have a single blade of grass, and their goalposts may not have nets. None of that deters their passion for the game. Rain or shine, early morning or late at night, seven days a week, the Gouthampura football ground, behind the clatter of the metro and the traffic leading to M.G. Road, thuds with the sounds of the local boys hard at play.
It all started when a resident of Gouthampura, A. Sattar Basheer, represented India in the 1948 Olympic Games in London. Although the team did not win, the fact that an Olympian had come from their own community started a craze for the sport.
This was further fuelled by the likes of P. Kannan, who in the 1962 Asian Games, was on the squad that brought home the gold medal in football for India. His success led him to be nicknamed the Indian Pele.
The legendary N. Ulaganathan or the ‘Black Pearl’ of Indian football is another success story from the area.
The area’s rich football history has inspired many youngsters in the area to practice and train hard, in the hopes that they too may one day play on the national team, or secure a job through football.
Rinesh Soburs is one such college dropout, who now works as an office boy. For him, football is an avenue through which he can be successful and provide for his family.
Anish who works as a courier, was recently signed to play for HAL SC.
Prashant Kalinga, an up-and-coming player who recently returned from a football camp in Pune, said that his goal was to one day play for the national team. This sentiment was echoed by many on the field. In order to help the young men reach their goals, former State and national players from Gouthampura have organised a football academy. Around 60 players aged 21 and under participate in its camp.
Every boy’s dream
For the boys, football starts at a young age. Says D.G. Vinod Kumar, a former Karnataka State player from the locality and organiser of the academy: “From the time they are five or six years old, after school, or when they don’t have any work to attend to, the boys make their way to the ground and start playing.”
According to T. Kalaivanan, a former Railways player and current coach at the Gouthampura Football Academy, of the 6,000-strong Gouthampura area, 285 players have been on squads of State clubs such as HAL SC, Railways and Karnataka State police.
And so, aspiring for a lifestyle born from football perhaps, the youngsters continue to play on the grounds muddied by the monsoon, some without even a pair of football cleats, racing back and forth across the pitch barefoot. The area’s landmark life-sized statue of Pele watches like a proud mentor.