28 December, 2018

When the football field is home

Young Bapenyimjong finds support from the "Tata Trusts Centre of Excellence for Football" to realise his dreams


Young Bapenyimjong finds support from the Tata Trusts Centre of Excellence (CoE) for Football to realise his dreams of becoming an ace footballer and starting a football academy to increase Nagaland talent in the national football team.

Life dealt Bapenyimjong a hard blow quite young. Losing both parents, he was raised by a doting elder sister. Young Bapen found his calling early in life. He wanted to be a footballer like his idol Mesut Ozil.

Realising that the football field was where he felt most at home, the 12-year-old decided to take control of the first chapter of his footballing life himself – he enrolled himself in Nagaland’s State Sports Academy in 2016. His sister wholeheartedly supported his desire to turn his footballing dream into a reality.

Things took a fortuitous turn in 2017, when the Tata Trusts Centre of Excellence for Football in Aizawl began its search for undiscovered talent from the Northeast region of India. Bapen was among the 400 boys who turned up for a spot in the first batch, and was selected for a chance to train under the best coaches and teachers. “Bapen was exactly what I was in search for. He fit into my vision for the CoE like a jigsaw piece,” says coach Bitan Singh, who spotted the Dimapur boy at the Kohima trials.

New beginnings

Bapen is grateful for the opportunity to train at the CoE. “I am sure I speak for all the other boys here when I say that we owe everything to the coaching staff here. While I enjoyed football throughout my life, it is only at the CoE that I have been taught how to have control over the ball, how to master the art of first touch,” says the Mesut Ozil and Sunil Chhetri fan.

Bapen standing proud with his teammates

For the Trusts’ CoE, this is a vindication of its purpose and mission. While helping them get healthier, fitter and better in their education, sport also serves as an important catalyst in shaping the personality and confidence of young children in realising their life’s aspirations. This philosophy has driven the Trusts’ interventions in the communities that the group’s businesses engage with.

The Trusts, through associate organisations, have set up sports academies to promote and implement development programmes in Football and Badminton in the North East and Hockey in Jharkhand. The Trusts have hired around 250 players in the respective regions as coaches, and organised coaching clinics to build their capacity. During the past year, over 10,000 children benefited such interventions. These included competitive coaching for about 70 promising athletes and life skills development for around 2,600 children studying in municipal schools.

Meanwhile, Bapen diligently puts his lessons to practice. In the recently concluded Mizoram U-15 League, the CoE boys were crowned champions, and Bapen was the architect of several of the goals that helped them reach the top of the league.

Bapen enjoys reading autobiographies of his heroes in his free time. The stories of football legends like Andrea Pirlo, Sir Alex Ferguson and Andrés Iniesta constantly inspire him to get a step closer to his goals.

While his immediate goal is working towards representing India someday, his long-term aspiration is establish his own academy to train not just boys, but girls as well, and help them discover the beauty of the sport of football.

“Unlike the other north-eastern states, I feel Nagaland is yet to grasp how much football has to offer. I want to change this perception and make it to the national team so that more people from my hometown and Nagaland pay attention to football. If I could do my bit to see more Naga people in the national squad in the years to come, I will feel like I have accomplished something big in life,” says the determined 14-year-old.

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East and North East Sports