CHENNAI: There’s a special kind of buzz hanging in the air at the JN Stadiums these days. Understandably so, for when hundreds of teenagers from all part of the country descend down, there is bound to be a lot of chatter.
The kids, in town for an U-14 and U-17 football tournament as part of the central government’s Khelo India programme, gather in clumps at various parts of the stadium, playing games on their mobiles, cribbing about that one over-sized player in the team they lost to the day before or discussing the movie they all plan on seeing when they get back home.
But dominating a lot of the chatter are a handful of boys who have not made the trip to Chennai, a group who will become the first-ever Indians to trot out in the football world cup, a few short months later. India’s U-17 team may be going through the paces under national coach Stephen Constantine in Goa right now, but their presence here is palpable.
They may not yet be household names, but everyone knows the likes of Boris Singh Thangjam, Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem and Aman Chetri here. To some, they are former opponents, to others, they are friends, classmates, former roommates.
Christopher Rajkumar, here to play for Manipur’s U-17 side, looks away from his mobile when he hears the name ‘Suresh Singh’. He knows all the Manipur boys in the team — and there are a few of them — but none better than Suresh. “Of course, I know him,” he says. “He used to be my teammate during the Subroto Cup. I had recently met him when he came home on a break and he was telling me about how it was, travelling to all these countries and playing there.”
And how good is he? Christopher breaks into an effusive smile. “Well, he is the captain, so he has to be very good. He dribbles well, you see. Nobody can catch him.”
For Mizoram’s Jessie Lalmawizuala, the World Cup team’s midfielder Lalengmawia is a childhood friend. They grew up a few blocks away from each other. So what did he say about playing Brazil the last time they met? “We did not talk about that,” Jessie says. “We met just once, so we just said ‘hi’ to each other. He is a bit of a local celebrity now”
Rajil Lal did tell Sandeep S, his classmate at MSP Higher Secondary School in Malappuram, about Brazil. They have played together for school and their home state Kerala. “He told me it was an amazing experience. Not only Brazil, but all the countries he went to,” Sandeep says.
But ultimately, to these kids, the exploits of their mates donning the blue jerseys, is a tale of hope, one that just reinforces their belief that the world is theirs for the taking. “I played with him (Suresh) once, so why can’t I do it again?” Christopher asks. “Maybe not now, maybe 5-6 years later for the senior team.”