Rural Sikkim’s potential for sports gets Sanju Pradhan’s endorsement in the form of a football academy in SombariaThe best football exports from the State first strapped their boots in their homes in rural Sikkim. The soccer triumvirate of Bhaichung Bhutia, Nirmal Chettri and Sanju Pradhan, all discovered the game in the bastis. What they also have in common is that their talent was discovered young and all three of them accessed professional coaching early in their growth as footballers. It is clearly in recognition of these round realities and the potential of rural youth to grow into “proper” footballers that Sanju Pradhan, who himself arrived in the professional circuit as recently as 2006, has lent his name and resources to establish a football academy in Sombaria, West Sikkim. The village-town is not even big enough to be a sub-division, but has the boasting rights to claim that team India regular and Atlético de Kolkata’s star midfielder, Sanju Pradhan, is a homeboy. And now, Sombaria also has a Sanju Football Academy, established in January 2013, and having a current roster of 42 footballers in training!
Rural Sikkim is teeming with football talent, and the need is to identify, groom and provide them with the right platform at the right age, Sanju stresses while explaining why he helped establish this football academy.
Speaking to NOW!, Sanju points out that there are very few football academies in the state offering only so many berths for interested footballers. Many children, especially from rural Sikkim like his village Sombaria and its surrounding areas, cannot receive proper coaching despite their “great interest” to develop their game.
“Due to this reason and especially to provide opportunities to rural children I have started this academy in my village,” he said.
Offering himself as an example, he stresses that if pursued with the right earnest, and provided there is enough skill, the youth stand a good chance to make a career in sports.
“If we excel in our respective disciplines, then not only in Sikkim but we can get ample jobs and opportunities outside the state as well,” he stated. He underlines that more people need to realize this and provide the sportingly inclined youth with all the opportunities to pursue a career in sports.
In fact, Sanju further states that the State government has been sending academically meritorious students to prestigious schools outside the state on scholarship and if the same could be extended for good sportspersons, as well, it would help produce more professional players from the state.
As for his plans for Sanju FA, he says: “After my retirement from football, I will give more time to the academy and make it a model for others and bring out talented footballers. I will need the support from the government and the people of the state, and especially a football ground to achieve this”.
His academy, although barely two years old, has started showing impressive results, having spotted good footballers and receiving good response from the people of the area.
Sanju Football Academy is presently catering the children from Sombaria and its surrounding areas. The academy, however, does not have a hostel facility and is practicing at Sombaria Senior Secondary School playground.
At present, 42 players are registered with Sanju FA. The academy has 20 players in 09 to 10 years batch and 22 players in 14 to 16 years age group. These players have been undergoing rigorous training under AFC-C License Coach Bhaskar Limboo assisted by Jas Bahadur Subba.
On the selection trail for the academy, an official of the academy informed that players are observed for a week by coaches and experts before getting inducted into the academy.
Once in, the players go through two training sessions every day. In morning, the training starts at 5:30 AM and in evening the training again starts at 4:30 PM. The academy conducts at least 4 hours of training every day.
The academy has delivered well. Eight of its players were in the Sikkim U-14 team last year which represented the state in the Coca Cola U-14 Football Tournament in Odisha. Likewise, Sombaria SSS team for the LD Kazi Memorial Inter School Football Tournament also had players from the academy.
Sanju Football Academy has now also started motivating the people of the area to live healthier lives and has also pumped up football craze among the people. The motivated parents have already started sending their children to practice while many others have become more conscious about their health.
Last year, the academy, in collaboration with the youth of the area, started the Sombaria Super League, a constituency level tournament. 18 teams from Daramdin constituency registered for the first edition of the league.
The academy also organises a football coaching camp during winters. This year, 60 children registered for this training. Interestingly, Sanju also spent some days with the children at the camp and shared his football experience with the budding footballers. Here’s to hoping that the academy continues to grow and inspire.