Bengaluru, November 12: The Under-17 and Under-13 squads of Kickstart FC, a football facility located in JP Nagar, visited Kolkata in the last week of October to play against the age-group teams of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, as well as watch the final of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup between England and Spain.
The 28-man squad included 20 boys from the Kickstart Academy and eight boys from the Kickstart Foundation, which provides free coaching for underprivileged kids in the football hotbeds of the city like Gautamapura, Austin Town, Murphy Town and Lingarajapuram (Charles Ground). The four-day trip, which included air fare to Kolkata and hotel stay in the West Bengal capital, was sponsored by the academy for the eight underprivileged boys. The coaching staff of the academy travelled along with the 28 kids.
The academy players landed in Kolkata on October 26 and took a day's rest. The next day, the U-13 and U-17 sides played a friendly against East Bengal at their East Bengal tent. On October 28, they featured in another friendly against Mohun Bagan and then proceeded to watch the final of the U-17 World Cup at the Salt Lake Stadium.
"Most of the kids in our academy are under the age of 17, which means they are contemporaries of the players in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. This way, they will get to see how players of their age compete at the highest level and that itself was a big takeaway for them. That apart, the games against East Bengal and Mohun Bagan gave them a reality check on what they have to work on whenever they play a 11-a-side game against a top team," Laxman Bhattarai, COO & Head Coach of Kickstart FC, said.
The journey to Kolkata was a special one for all the eight foundation boys, who had never boarded a flight before. Even Edwin, a coach at the Kickstart Academy, claimed that the trip to Kolkata was his first-ever journey on an aircraft.
As for the games, Kickstart FC lost both the fixtures. However, Bhattarai insists that the experience of playing against the top clubs of the country counts more for his wards.
"I knew from before the level that East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, clubs with a tradition of more than 100 years, are in - way above us. We, an academy that is just one-year-old, will obviously have to learn from them. I was impressed with the way the U-17 boys played in the first half against EB and Bagan. They were able to contain their opponents but they eventually lost focus to concede goals. What I had got them to concentrate on was endurance. They need to learn how to pace themselves in a 90-minute 11-a-side match," Bhattarai said.
On the day of the final though, the organisers were short of tickets for the final. Instead of 39, Shekhar Rajan, Kickstart FC CEO, said he was able to procure only 30. At that moment, some of the Kickstart Academy are said to have sacrificed their tickets so that the lesser-fortunate Foundation wards, who had never visited an international stadium before, could watch the World Cup final.
"It started with our Under-17 captain Raunaq. He said he wouldn't mind giving up his seat so that someone else can watch the final. Then, one by one, even the coaching staff voluntarily pulled out," Shekhar Rajan said.
The trip to Kolkata wasn't a one-off event. Bhattarai revealed there's another in the pipeline at the end of December. "We have agreed for a visit to Nepal from December 27-January 1. There, we will play against Under-17 national team of Nepal in Kathmandu and then face the Under-13 Nepalese national team in Pokhara. We've already conducted trials to pick our 28-man travelling squad. We'll train them over the next month to get them ready."
Satya Narayana, head of the Kickstart FC Foundation, expressed his gratitude to the Academy for giving an opportunity to eight poor kids to play in the friendlies. "These eight children are from really poor families. Some of the fathers of the eight work as a coolie, bartender or a security guard. This opportunity to travel to Kolkata and witness the final itself is a big thing for them. I am really happy that Kickstart FC gave them the opportunity and I hope in the future, we can accommodate more kids and sponsor their exposure tours."