There aren’t many world-class facilities for budding players

For decades, Gowthampura’s heart has been beating for football. This lower middle class area of Bangalore has no proper infrastructure; just a few playgrounds and fierce passion for the beautiful game. And, of course, people such as young Satish Kumar Janardhan, who played for Mohun Bagan in the last two seasons of the I-League, who got there through sheer hard work.

Inadequate facilities

In fact, it takes a lot to be a footballer in Bangalore. Despite quantum leaps the game has taken around the world, conditions in Bangalore remain woefully inadequate. Barring the Sports Authority of India (SAI), football facilities in the city, which include the half a dozen or so football academies run by former professionals, need funds to keep the ball kicking. All these smaller grounds have mud surfaces, instead of grass and Astroturf that professional football demands.

Surface tension

“We need better grounds for practice as [there is a huge] difference between grass and clay. The players have a hard time adjusting to the surfaces,” said Manoj Kumar, a Gowthampura coach.

Concurring with Mr. Kumar, former Coal India coach C. Sridhar said: “We try to do as much as we can; but without any financial support we cannot do much.” Mr. Sridhar trains at the Football Academy in Gowthampura, which receives funds from former players, each contributing Rs. 100 every month.

Pitching tent

Despite their wafer-thin budgets, which include funding from well-wishers, these talent nurseries are popular. Coaches acknowledge the city has talent, which needs to be nurtured. There is good news in that big names such as the Jamshedpur-based Tata Academy and the FIFA academies being set up in Bangalore. S.M. Balu, coach and former FIFA referee, said: “The boys have to go to the national academies to fulfil their dreams.” He adds that there is promising talent in smaller academies also.

Lester Fernandez (26), a midfielder in the Indian team, underscoring the need for exposure, said league games should be telecast just like cricket. “We need more tournaments at the school level and associations need to start helping out from there.”

Positive attitude

Coaches see initiatives from FIFA and FC Barcelona, which conducted training sessions in May this year, as a move forward. J. Andrews, ex-ITI player and a coach at Austin Town, pointed out that the response to Barcelona’s training camp was proof that children are looking to play the game. “The attitude towards the game is positive and even parents are supporting them.”

But though players may score for the beautiful game, it’s back to the basics. As Deepak Kumar, a left winger for RBANMS puts it: “We watch foreign players and try to play like them, but the grounds are not good. If the game has to improve, then it is important that basic facilities also improve.”