Sharing a set of brief personal confessions from the streets of Dubai to the pages of the Footynions blog, as it appeared on Al Jazeera recently. Of course, there is lot more to it than this.
It started barefoot on the layered asphalt streets of Dubai. Two against two, quick one-two’s around the opposition – a little tiki-taka of our own, although we didn’t know then that such a term existed to describe a style of play worlds away, on a different continent.
My school was so small that if we wanted to play a game we had to bring in ninth graders in order to make up a first XI. But somehow, in 2001, I found myself heading to the US on a sports scholarship.
Four years of collegiate football blessed me with many friends and accolades, including a mention in the Indian national team’s ‘probables’ listing for the 2006 World Cup. After graduation, unwilling to give up on the dream of a professional career, I headed to New York, where I worked several part-time jobs as I sought to secure try-outs.
First up was a Pro-Indoor team in Philadelphia. The excitement was ripe – the timing was not. It was Ramadan, which I decided to count as a blessing. But, having played my heart out and making it to the final 12, my legs gave up on me even as my mind continued to cheer me on. I remember walking a few blocks from the venue before sitting down on the middle of an empty road to curse my luck.
Next up came the call from a Chicago-based team. So I saved up enough for the flight. Unable to stretch to accommodation, my only option was to sleep in the airport. Under suspicious eyes I took up four seats in the far corner and racked up for the night. I woke early, tired and aching, and headed for my potentially ‘life-changing’ moment. After several rounds, I made it to the final cut. But, a few weeks later, I received a letter from the team explaining why they couldn’t take me on: I was not a US citizen.
It was time to give up on the pursuit of a professional career. Still, football had taught me much that would help me elsewhere – shaping my thoughts on winning and losing, how to earn respect and maintain trust.
Then, in 2011, I realised that I could contribute to the sport without being on the pitch. Footynions offered an opportunity to help others struggling to play the game – whether financially or through sharing the limited knowledge I’d acquired over the years. So, thank you football.