My world being Mumbai
It was the year 2010 and I was in seventh grade. My class had their games period. I had always had this dream of entering the inter-school football scene. For me, my ultimate goal was to get into my school football team.
I used to be in Navy Children School, Mumbai for most of my school life. Back then, I was just chatting with my friends and getting ready to play when our school physical training sir, Mr Paresh walked up to us and told us that he would be taking trials for the school football team. Wearing school uniforms, black leather shoes and a tight belt, wonder how I played!
Guess it was the adrenaline rush that helped. I must say, my class, itself had some amazing players. There was this guy called Himanshu. My my, he was the best at the time.
His game was amazing. He could create chances out of nothing, his passes were the most accurate, his shoots were good too and he was fast, really, really, really fast. It was mesmerizing to watch him play. And then there was me, a little tiny kid. Compared to his my game was just, decent.
I had Himanshu in my team. Lucky me! I thought passing the ball around would get me in. So I did just that. As soon as I got the ball I would rotate the ball. In between the game, Shrihari and Himanshu were called by Sir and their names were noted down. I found my chances dwindling as sir didn’t call anyone else.
I have always had a good shot. And when we received a corner, I decided to take it. Sir was sitting under a tree which was just five feet away from the corner flag. I looked at him once, he gave this blank stare and then grinned. I took my run up and whacked that ball with all my might and it flew. No one could get a head to it and no one was expected to, after all, who was so gutsy at the time to head a ball?
Paresh Sir just asked me for my name and like a cadet from the National Defence Academy, I did a perfect about turn and introduced myself. "Ankit Nagar. Class 7-B. Date Of Birth 07/09" but right then, he cut me short and told me to answer just the question and stick to the question, always.
I was selected. I was the happiest person on the planet. I went home and jumped around like a five-year-old. My mom and Dad took me out for a hearty dinner as celebrations were in order.
Practice started in two days. The first day of practice, I realized the coach was a pretty familiar face. I later realized that he had coached me earlier on. For some odd reason, I felt he had a soft corner for me. Soon, I was made the captain of the U-12 side. I went crazy. Next thing I know i was picking players, and to be honest I didn't know anyone. How would I? This was my first time with the school team. I didn't know anyone at all so I picked Himanshu and asked him to pick the rest of the side for me.
Once the game was underway, no one was listening to me. I was angry. At that age, I used to start crying If I was upset. And that's what I did.
Soon enough, someone came and told me to stop and buck up. I looked up and saw this man in whites. Sudip Gangopadhyay was his name. He was instrumental in me developing as a footballer and also as a person. I listened to him and went on to handle the game better. He told me that I had to be stronger mentally and physically. And that was that, I was hell-bent on improving.
I was 12 that year and was selected to play in the Arsenal Cup U-15 squad. I was a substitute and rightfully so, I was playing with seniors who were really good. Sitting on the bench and looking at the others show their skills was an eye-opener. I realized winning matches and scoring goals on the street with my batch mates meant nothing. We lost in the pre-quarters and I got to play the second half of two games. I think I managed to pass the ball twice. I had the number 8 jersey which was my favourite cause my inspiration was Steven Gerrard.
I also played the Mahindra Youth Football Challenge the same year in the U-14 age category.
Unfortunately, I was on the bench again. The team had the Kumar brothers. It’s an honour to play alongside them, even today. Praful and Pranjal, both strong, fit, masters of the game. It was a forty-minute game and I was brought on in the tenth minute. Gango sir played me on the right wing and as soon as I got the ball, I ran for my life towards the goal. A player came in front of me, I nutmegged him and went straight through to deliver a cross to the far post.
Another instance was when this player fouled me, took the ball and ran. The ref didn’t spot it and I flipped.
I got up, sprinted behind him and slid. I got the ball but the player flew a few yards. I walked up to the player, gave him a piece of my mind and walked off.
Gango sir applauded.
Sadly though, we lost on penalties.
But all that did really was kickstart my love for the Mumbai football scene. I didn’t study a bit. Football took priority over my studies. I did improve but I knew there was a whole world of amazing footballers out there who are a thousand times better than me. And this was just the start.
From hoping that I'll make it to the school team to playing with people two-three years older than me was incredible. Who knew that a skinny tiny kid to make the slightest of dents. It just made me believe that all I had to do was try.
My journey had just begun, and I was really eager to see what lay ahead.