How a football club in Sikkim is helping two athletes fulfil their dreams
There was a time when football was looked at as something that one should not make a career of in the country, although, there are still many who feel this way, the tide seems to be slowly turning and parents are more open to their children following their passion and trying to make it in the Indian football scene. With opportunities growing for players, it is still however no easy feat to get recognized and sign for a top club in the country. Two very different players from completely different backgrounds are prime examples of how difficult it is to try and cut it into the I-League. In football it is irrespective what background you come from, when on the pitch every single player is the same and the only thing that sets them apart is skill and hard work.
Johnychand Singh, a 23-year-old from Manipur was pipped to have a career in football from a very early age. He has been playing professionally for 9 years and started playing when he was just 5-years old. He also captained the U-19 Indian national team but like so many in Manipur, he had to put football on hold earlier this year as coming from a very modest background and having personal and family issues made it impossible for him to continue playing. His father was also a footballer at one point but as it wasn't a feasible career to support a family, he had to hang up his boots but unlike Johny's father, he completely has the support of his family.
Rishabh in action during a practice session
Having played for Air India FC for 3 years, he thought that this was the correct step in his career but the club withdrew from the I-League and Johny was found without a club. He tried to find one in Manipur but that proved more difficult than expected. The months he took off cost him as he didn't play in the I-League last season. He finally found a club and now plays Gangtok Himalayan SC. The club had made it I-League debut a few seasons ago but have since been relegated.
At the other end of the spectrum is another footballer who is also trying to make a name for himself in the Indian football scene. Rishabh Sharma is a 21-year-old from Delhi has also made GHSC his home. He and Johny are roommates and his journey to the club has been a long and tedious one. He started playing when he was in Class 5 and represented Haryana in a U-16 tournament when he was 14. His family always supported his want to become a footballer and in 2012 he left for Australia where he played for a second division team there—Cooma Tigers FC but because of visa issues, he had to come back to the country. Before he left Australia he was however spotted by David Beckham's former aide Andy Bernal who took him under his wing for a month. Things did not pan out for him but ever since he came back, he has been trying to break it into the Indian football scene but has found out firsthand how difficult it is to make it into an I-League team. However, although GHSC is not a top club he feels very grateful to be able to play at a professional club.
The Gangtok Himalayan SC team
Talking about each other, Rishabh says," Johny is a very versatile player who came in as an attacking midfielder but right now he's playing as a defender. He's very genuine and has a very pure heart." Johny also has only good things to say about his roommate, "Rishabh is a very gifted player and always gives 100% at every training session. He's a nice guy and we get along quite well with each other."
Both the players are regularly a part of the starting 11 of the club and the atmosphere at the stadium is always amazing at every single game. The Northeast has always been a football loving region and players relish playing in front of crowds who are just as passionate about the game and love the club. GHSC will be participating in the Durand Cup. Their first match is against Minerva this coming Tuesday and they are very excited. They want to use their time at GHSC wisely and prove their worth as they now have a platform to highlight their talent.
(By Jessica Passah)