Shankar R. is a celebrity of sorts at his school. He dribbles for a bit before showing off his other football skills. His every move elicits loud cheers from his schoolmates.
This 14-year-old student of the Government Kannada and Tamil Model Primary School, Cleveland Town, is most comfortable when he’s on the field, wearing his white team jersey and track pants. Shankar has played twice for the State, in the under-12 and under-14 categories. So, when he’s on the field, expectations are high. Everyone wants to watch him in action, displaying the famous footwork that got him into the State side.
Quiz him about his love for football and he gushes: “Football is my life. I can never stop playing the sport,” before running to grab the ball from his friend.
His single mother works as a domestic help.
The ‘big annas’
He says that he became interested in the beautiful game after watching the ‘big annas’ playing near his house. “They had a nice big ball and fancy shoes, which I didn’t have. I asked if I could play with them, but they refused.”
Not one to give up, Shankar says he tried to imitate what the big boys were doing using a plastic bottle. “Every day I would sit and watch the big annas play. Then I would go near my house and try the same things using plastic bottles as my mother could not buy me a ball.”
His eyes light up as he shows off his new Nike shoes gifted to him by his coach. Those days of plastic bottles, he says, have been left behind. “After two years of dreaming about these shoes, I finally got to wear them.” he says. But, at school, he continues to play barefoot, explaining that the shoes “are only for special occasions such as practice sessions and matches”.
Shankar’s talent was first spotted by Satish Kumar S., who works with Oasis India, a non-governmental organisation that provides football training to young students. “Satish sir asked me to start coming for practice sessions. I get up every day at 5 a.m. and go for the practice sessions which go on for two hours,” he says.
Shankar, who plays as a forward, says: “My teammates pass the ball to me and I kick the ball to score a goal. Every time I score a goal, I get very excited. Every single time, I scream and shout, and all my teammates come and hug me.”
So what does this young gun want to be when he grows up? “A football coach,” he says. And he’s well on his way to fulfilling his dream. He has convinced his schoolmates to enrol for football coaching and he helps them with their game. Shankar adds that he shares whatever he learns with his schoolmates.
His coach, Satish, says: “He is an extremely talented boy who is committed to the sport. In fact, the game has made him a different person; he has imbibed a sense of discipline and team spirit.”