Being a Northeastener! (10 of 15)
For a football player, 90 minutes is not just a match played within the lines of the football pitch, it is much more than that. It is all the years that one puts into practice, the expectations, the dreams and so much more. To most of fans in the stands it is a just a game, but to us it so much more than that. Those 90 minutes to us, professional footballers, is our life and sometimes a bit more than that as well.
I am from Manipur but that's when I am in the Northeast. When I play outside the region, I am Renedy Singh, the footballer from the Northeast. I have lived with this tag for my whole career. I have played for Mohun Bagan, East Bengal Club, EverReady SA, JCT FC, Shillong Lajong, United Sikkim, Kerela Blasters and yet, no one associates me with any Team. I have played for the Indian national Football Team but then again, I am always the footballer from the Northeast.
I take this in my stride. In fact I take this very seriously not just because I have to constantly prove myself to anyone but because every time I step into the pitch, I realise that I have to prove myself worthy of the Northeast. I can never forget that it is so much more than what I have given to the people of the region, I have received. Opportunity, recognition and respect.
Having grown up playing football in my early years in Imphal, I was lucky to be given a chance to play at the prestigious Tata Football Academy in Jamshedpur. Not many know but my father managed a local football club in Imphal but wanted me to join the Army instead of pursue football as a career. Perhaps he thought that it offered a more stable job and would provide me an opportunity to make a life outside of Manipur, which at that time and still continues to be deeply plagued in conflict. It was my grandfather who finally said to my father 'let the boy pursue his dreams' and the rest is history.
This was my exit to a better life away from the politics of the region which I honestly admit I have little clue about.
Over the years, of course, my identity has gone through a transformation from being a Manipuri lad trying to make his way in the big bad world of Kolkata football to now becoming the Vice Captain of the Indian Football Team. It has been a roller coaster ride.
Yes, racism does exist but then some of my best friends are people from different parts of the country … Bengal, Goa, Kerala, Srinagar. As a player, I must admit I have lived a vast majority of my life with a team. I have trained as a team, played for a common goal, celebrated victories together, cried over loses together, stayed together and shared many-a-meal with the team. In such circumstances the boundaries of State and region blur.
But as I come to the twilight of my professional career, I have become extremely conscious of who I am and what it means to be a Northeast Indian. I have always wanted to give back something to the youth of our region and even if this means I come back and give quality time to the young budding footballers, I would feel that I am doing my bit to promote the beautiful game.
When I started playing, I did not have many people guiding me in the right direction be it fitness, diet or simply managing my finances. Today as the President of the Football Players Association of India, I do feel a sense of obligation to ensure the same is not repeated to the budding talent from the region and beyond.
As I earlier said, contribution to society does not end once the game begins. It is encouraging to see so many people from the Northeast now excel in sports and gain the recognition they truly deserve. But it is more endearing to see them go back to their towns and villages, to their roots and help the young people who are interested in sports find their way. If I can touch a few individuals and inspire them, I will be humbled that I have done my bit. I will feel worthy of being called "the footballer from the Northeast".