The Andamans team may have scored just a single goal in the just-concluded southern phase of the National football championship, but the young players are positive that with better training facilities they could fare better in future

The blue ocean and the sylvan setting are captivating. And there is no dearth of these in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. But for the footballers from this region it did not matter that Chennai pales in comparison to the beauty of the Andamans. They had come with a mission – to make an impact in the southern phase of the national football championship for the Santosh Trophy that was recently concluded.

However, reality turned out to be different as the players could not match their counterparts from the southern states. The Andamans team was a punching bag for the others. Sad, but there was little these men could do, considering the abysmal facilities they have back home. It is a surprise that conditions differ so much from the mainland. “We do not have a proper ground to speak of for regular training let alone leagues. Besides, our players are used to only a 30-minute each way match (45-minutes for each half is the rule),” said coach Anand Ram, who despite not having recognised coaching qualifications does his bit for the sport.

Plenty of potential

The islanders have the physical attributes that would delight any football coach but when it came to ball skills, stamina and planning, the young men’s inadequacies showed up in the recent contest. At half-time, when the reserves entered the field just to enjoy a few stretches or play with the ball, one could see their potential. Some of them kicked the ball towards the goal from over 40 yards away with such precision that established players would wonder why the team struggled in the competition.

Hearing the travails of the Andaman footballers, one cannot help but sympathise with them. “We hardly get to hear of coaching clinics or programmes organised by the All India Football Federation here. No expert comes. We play because of our interest and there’s a lot of it as we are all youngsters. The association has its rules and we just go on,” said Ram. He recalled the aftermath of the tsunami which devastated much of the island, including its only stadium. What’s left of it is used to play football.

No doubt, a football facility with FIFA-assistance was set up as part of the world body’s desire to help people return to normal life, post the tsunami. But as the ground was located on the campus of Jawaharlal Nehru College, under an agreement the local administration entered into with FIFA, “permission of the college authorities had to be sought each time the players wanted to use it,” he pointed out.

Lack of sponsorship

It was not easy for the footballers to come to India for special coaching due to lack of sponsorship. “Also, though the easiest way to travel to India is by ship, each trip meant six days of travel (three days each way),” he said. For the Chennai event, the Andamans players landed a week earlier so that the youngsters could practise as a cohesive unit. “The players come from various parts of islands, mostly Nicobar,” he said.

In such a situation, it did not matter to the team that it was losing or conceding goals aplenty. “Every match was a lesson for us. The best part of the championship for me and my boys was that we could at least score one goal,” said an excited Ram. Andamans’ lone goal came in the match against Tamil Nadu. “This achievement gives us the confidence to face competition, next time,” he signed off.