Thrissur: It was a historic moment for Indian football when team the Indian colts defeated Argentina in the under-20 COTIF Cup in Valencia on August 7. When the football fans of Kerala celebrated with firecrackers and rallies, Thrissur had a special reason to rejoice. Two young men from Thrissur - K P Rahul and Sachin Suresh - were part of team India's success against Argentina. When Onmanorama caught up with the youngsters and their families, they shared with us their boundless joy and pride - of having taken Indian football to new heights.
Rahul's journey - from street-soccer to U-17 WC
Rahul hails from a rural village called Ollukkara, near Mannuthy, in Thrissur district. The 18-year-old was groomed as footballer by his grandfather, a policeman. Rahul's father, Praveen, who keeps a kennel at his home, says that the boy 'inherited' his grandfather's football genes. “My father was a passionate footballer. He used to play as a mid-fielder in a local club where they played 'thunippanthu' (rag ball). He taught Rahul the basics of football when the latter was barely five. My father passed away when Rahul was ten,” Praveen said.
Rahul played 'football' with empty plastic bottles and fiber balls on the street with children in the neighborhood. Praveen, with meager earnings from his kennel, could not buy him a football or a pair of playing shoes. But this loving father never restricted his son from pursuing his passion.
“No one supported him in his childhood. Rahul was an average student. Teachers wouldn't understand the professional prospects of a sport like football. They complained many a times about his low academic performance and keenness in sports,” says Rahul's mother, Bindu, a housewife. However, things changed when Rahul got selected to play in the district football team after a screening at a local football club. Rahul led the under-16 football team of Thrissur in several state-level tournaments and soon, got an invite to join the national football team.
Rahul became the first Indian to get selected to the under-17 FIFA World Cup team in 2017. India hosted the event for the first time last year.
“There were a lot of people at our home to watch Rahul play, on TV. After the Argentina match, he called us and said, "Father, we won this match. Next one is already up."
Yes, the busy footballer is heading to Australia and later to Croatia after a brief visit to his Ollukkara house this month.
Rahul's sister Nandana is an eighth standard student.
Sachin Suresh, the man at the post
Football was never just-another-game at Sachin's home. His father, Suresh, was a goalkeeper with the Calicut University football team when he pursued his graduation at Sri Vyasa NSS College, Vadakkancherry. However, Suresh could not pursue his passion as he had to fly to the middle-east seeking a better livelihood. Sachin started playing football when he was seven. His mother Leena, headmistress at Poomala Higher Secondary School, and his elder sister Sruthi encouraged Sachin to participate in local football matches.
“I quit my job in the middle-east and returned home to start a business and settle down at my native place. Moreover, the news of Sachin's keen interest in football made me restless. I wanted to be with him and make him a good goalkeeper. I gave him lessons of goal-keeping at home and became his first coach,” the proud father says.
Sachin joined Farouq Higher Secondary School, Kozhikode, for a better orientation and coaching in football. He secured an A-plus in all the subjects for both SSLC and higher secondary public examinations. “He satisfied everyone's wishes at home. I wanted him to become an international footballer. His headmistress mother never wanted him to compromise on studies. He fulfilled both of our wishes,” Suresh said.
Sachin joined the under-20 team a couple of months ago. Interestingly, he was a playmate of Rahul in a local football nursery. Sachin's sister Sruthi is a final-year civil engineering student.