Spocial Revolution: How a kid from Bangalore bent it like Beckham in the Homeless World Cup

Read about the 17 year old son of a gardener and maid kicked through challenges to score the first goal in the Homeless World Cup in 2013.


Team India at the Eiffel Tower, Paris. Girish stands second from left.

The Eiffel Tower stands tall against the azure sky of Paris in the summer of August ’11. But, instead, all eyes are directed towards the green lawns of the ‘Champ de Mars’, where multiple football matches are in progress.

17-year-old Girish Venkatesh is one among the 400 odd participants from 48 different nations at the 2011 Homeless World Cup. The 5’11” inch Bangalorean striker is on an Indian team with two players from West Bengal, one from Manipur and four others from Maharashtra’s Slum Soccer NGO.

Girish greets former French international footballer Emmanuel Petit, who was the chief guest at the 2011 Homeless World Cup

India has already lost its first five league games. Today, it takes on Spain. Another loss will wipe out its chances of progressing to the next round. Coach Homkanth had given the team a proper dressing down the night before: “Have you come to Paris only for sightseeing? Do you want to go back to India and hang your heads in shame in front of your parents?”

The match is moments away and the coach’s words keep playing in Girish’s head on a loop. He is well aware that opportunities like these will come by his way very rarely. Girish Venkatesh cannot afford to lose.

***

Girish (centre) with his family

Born in Bangalore to a gardener father and a mother who cleans other people’s houses for a living, Girish did his initial schooling from Bangalore Higher Secondary School in Jayanagar. “In eighth standard, during one of our PT drills, our attention kept getting diverted by the shouts of others playing football,” he says. The next day he asked to be included in the scrimmages. “They made me a goalkeeper, which is another way of suggesting that they didn’t think much of my abilities.” Immediately, he took it upon himself to get selected to his school football team. But in the absence of a quality coach, who would teach him the fundamentals of dribbling, passing and scoring?

Dream A Dream

Bangalore based NGO Dream A Dream has been supplying life skills to over 43,000 underprivileged kids in the last 14 years. On November 29th, 2013, Dream A Dream was presented with the 2013 EDUCASPORT “Sport and teachers’ training” award in Paris. The organisation was chosen from among 200 initiatives worldwide for its exemplary work in helping marginalized young people integrate into society. It has also been selected to send a delegation for the Football for Hope Festival to be held during the climax of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Dream A Dream’s Head of Programmes Ashok G receives the 2013 EDUCASPORT “Sport and teachers’ training” award

Dream A Dream coaches Lawrence and Bobbymon George (left), Ramesh (centre) and India’s Homeless World Cup Coach Homkanth

Once Girish joined Dream A Dream’s football programme, the high quality of instruction, combined with his enthusiasm, helped his skills blossom. Within a year, he made it to his school team. By tenth standard, he was named school captain.

“My father was initially against me spending too much time on football. My mother was the one who supported me a lot,” Girish confides in us. “I used to throw my football gear out from the window and walked out of the house only with my school books, so that my father wouldn’t come to know.”

His footballing prowess could be kept under wraps only for a few months. In 2011, while in eleventh standard, Girish was among three promising players from Dream A Dream—Johnson and Revanna, the other two—to be called for tryouts at Nagpur, for selection to the Indian Homeless World Cup team. The extensive screening process, conducted by Slum Soccer, assessed short-listed players on their sprinting speed, passing ability, ball control and match temperament. Girish was the only Dream A Dream player to make the cut.

After a few hassles getting his passport, Girish found himself flying from New Delhi to Paris. “Back when I was in primary school, we had a rich friend who was always going abroad during vacations. I used to sit in class and imagine how the buses, streets and buildings would look like in foreign countries. I never thought one day I’d get to visit these places myself.”

Girish along with the rest of the Dream A Dream team during his graduation day program

***

As the opening whistle sounds signalling the start of the match against Spain, Girish snaps out of his reverie. All his off-field troubles fade away. Between the four white lines of the football field, nothing can touch him. Life’s many possibilities seem within reach.

His eyes suddenly light up. A teammate has found him with a glorious through ball.

Girish has practised this particular scenario hundreds of times courtesy his Dream A Dream Coaches Lawrence, Ramesh and Bobbymon. He receives the pass with a touch of his right foot. Immediately, he squares towards the opposition goal. Spain’s goalkeeper is tall, strapping and intimidating. Girish, though, notices the goalee’s shifty eyes and hesitating stance. The goalee doesn’t know if he is going to aim left or right. Wasting no time, Girish stretches his right foot far back and throws all his weight into the shot. The ball speeds across the ground beyond the outstretched legs of the exasperated Spain goalee.

GOAL! Girish raises his hands upwards, a toothy grin writ large on his flushed face as he sees his teammates rush toward him in celebration.

Girish scored his first goal against Spain. India would win the match 10-3, signalling a turnaround in its fortunes. After losing its first five games, India finished with six straight wins to top Pool D. Their 6-5 record meant that India was elevated to Pool C the following year.

***

Working as a Dream A Dream facilitator

 Girish Ventakesh is now a 19-year-old second year commerce student at Vijaya College, Bangalore. He has graduated from the three year Dream A Dream program but continues working with them as a ‘facilitator’ on a paid basis. Every evening, after his college classes, Girish conducts football sessions so that other kids like him build and develop critical life skills through the sport. He remains committed to fulfilling his lifelong dream of playing in the Indian National team.

This story is a part of the Spocial Revolution series, a collaboration with SportsKeeda featuring stories of sports as an instrument towards social change and voices from the community on sports as a choice in sustainability.

Have a story of how sports changed your life or someone else’s? Write to contribute@thealternative.in 


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lawyer by degree. Independent writer by profession, with a soft spot for stories on Indian basketball. Co-creator of ekalavyas.com, India's first and only basketball news website. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lawyer by degree. Independent writer by profession, with a soft spot for stories on Indian basketball. Co-creator of ekalavyas.com, India's first and only basketball news website. more

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