Saturday, May 19, 2012

Soccer coach bends tradition but fails to reach goal

Abdul Gani

Guwahati: If life were a Bollywood film, Hem Das would have been a Shah Rukh Khan with the halo of a Chak De! But a grand dream of Das – the soccer version of the hit Bollywood film revolving around hockey — is dying a slow death due to paucity of funds and the government’s refusal to help.

In a mission to spread soccer skills among village youngsters, Hem Das has single-handedly trained around 40 young girls at Rani, a sleepy township about 40 kms from Guwahati.

It all started in 2010 when Das, a soccer player-turned coach, set out on a mission to fullfil one of his life-long ambitions — find uncut gems in the rural belts and polish them into sparkling soccer players.

The girls at the centre. Pic by Abdul Gani

“I always feel that in physical sports like football, the village youths are more suitable. And they have the fire in them to excel. The only thing they lack is proper training,” he told Seven Sisters Post. But to his surprise, there were hardly any boys interested in taking up soccer. Instead, he found a rag-tag bunch of girls who were not only keen to know the game, but were also very quicklearners.

Most significantly, many of these girls had never even seen a football match. Starting from scratch, the former Assam and Santosh Trophy player groomed the 40-odd girls, taking them through the paces and building a team capable of beating the best in the state.

The girls even took part in several exhibition matches in Guwahati and Barpeta. Das, who is in his late 50s, provided the girls with all the equipment, from boots to balls, all at his own expenses. “It cost me around Rs 80,000 per year to run the camp. This is just for the love of the game. And over the last two years we have developed an attachment like a family. But it has become tough for me to continue this,” a very dejected Das said.

Hem Das giving tips. Pic by Abdul Gani

All these girls who study at Rani High School come from nearby villages like Moirapur, Jayantipur, Maskuchi, Natun Rani, Rani, Natun Batabari, Koroibari, Pitbari, Bahupara, Goimari, Rangapara, and Lalmati every day to attend the camp at the playground of the school.

“Their passion and dedication towards the sport have provided me the energy to continue it. Their parents, who have to toil hard to make both ends meet, have also been extremely supportive,” the coach said.
But Das said no sports organiser or government body has shown any interest at his initiative. “The girls were almost ready to take part in the last inter-district competition, but it did not happen due to some problems. Hopefully, this year they can make it. I’m also thinking of sending them to represent other districts,” he added.

However, he is not sure if he can continue the camp any more. “I don’t know how far I can go with these girls. They have picked up the game well and showed promise. But the main obstacle I’m facing at present is funds which I need to maintain the camp,” Das said. The young football players, on the other hand, were effusive in their praise for “Das sir”, who has turned into a beacon of light in their humdrum life. “We are grateful to Das sir for his efforts to fulfil our dreams.

We could have never done it if he was not here to help us out. We are hopeful that by playing soccer, we would be able to take the name of our village to the national soccer scene. Though initially my mother refused to this, now she too have understood the importance,” said Purnima Rabha, a player of the camp who lost her father several years ago.

Young players like Purnima can now bend it like Beckham but Das is not too sure if he will achieve the goal he had set out to reach. (Seven Sisters Post)


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