Thursday, May 1, 2014

Bokaro breeds Brilliance!

“I learned all about life with a ball at my feet.”
-          Ronaldinho, Brazilian footballer

Chances are that a 13 year old boy raised on the streets of Kolkata would know more about Ronaldinho than the rest of us would. Traditionally, football is a sport played with religious fervor in the eastern belt of our country. It’s not uncommon for youth of Bengal to dream of becoming renowned national players. In the year 2000, one such teenager from the heart of Kolkata, Lal Kamal Bhaumick (then 13), with dreams in his eyes and football in his dreams, found himself in the SAIL Football Academy in Bokaro Steel City. Today, Lal Kamal plays for the United Sports Club, for an annual package of Rs 85 lakhs. For someone who has been through difficult days of sustenance, the story of rise of Lal Kamal Bhaumick is a study in courage and talent promoted by corporate intervention.

Inspiration Incarnate: Lal Kamal Bhowmick
For football enthusiasts across the country, SAIL Football Academy (SFA) is much more than just a professional sports academy. It is perceived as a training school which eventually provides passage for enrolment in one of the Ivy League football clubs of the country. Historically, the game of football has been equated with freedom and independence. It is therefore no coincidence that Bokaro launched this academy on the Independence Day of year 1998. Starting with 55 cadets, the academy grew in strength and facility in the ensuing years. As of now, 40 cadets are undergoing training and around 150 have been trained since inception.  

The induction of cadets into the academy follows a structured and comprehensive procedure, with focus on tapping native talent.  SAIL- BSL’s Sports and Civic Amenities Department send invitation to all the State Football Associations’ secretaries of the country and to the SAIL units requesting them to recommend four best players who have proved their performance in Sub-Junior Nationals, Subroto Cup, Junior National league and other recognized tournaments organized by State Football Associations and Sports Authority of India. Exceptionally talented candidates are also considered for induction to the Academy. To give fair chance to local youth, preliminary induction tests are carried out in different places such as Kolkata, Siliguri, Manipur, Orissa, Delhi, Punjab, Goa and Kochi. Shortlisted cadets are recommended for a comprehensive test conducted at Bokaro Steel City. The selection committee comprises expert selectors, ex-Olympians as well as renowned ex-employees associated with SAIL units.

It was in one such selection trial that Bhaumick came to meet his fate; what he calls as the ‘turning point of his life’. Born to a cotton mill worker and a home-maker mother, Bhaumick comes from a large family of six siblings. For as long as he can remember, Bhaumick wanted to be a footballer. “I used to dream, eat and smell football all the time,” confesses the player in his thickly rounded Bengali accent. Even though the size of his family put pressure on his father’s meagre earnings, their strong value system remained a source of strength for them. The untimely demise of his father in the year 2000 shook the entire family, and plunged them in financial hardships. The same year, ex-Olympian & former coach of SFA Bokaro Late Peter Thangraj visited Kolkata to hold selection trials for the academy. The sports teacher of Sabitri School, where Bhaumick used to study, informed him about the selection trial. This came as a lease of life for him and his family, since SFA cadets are paid monthly stipends, and all other expenses are well taken care of.
Practice sessions in progress at the football ground in Mohan Kumar Mangalam Stadium, located in Sector 4 of Bokaro Steel City

While in the academy, the cadets are provided with the best of facilities in terms of furnished accommodation, a calorie-rich diet, free education in BSL schools, the entire paraphernalia for studying and playing football, monthly stipend and free medical facilities (including group insurance coverage). Cadets get to practice the game in the sprawling football ground of Mohan Kumar Mangalam Stadium in Sector 4 of the city. Next to their hostel is a multi-gym health club and a practice football ground. Players are coached through modern audio-visual presentations which include sessions on sports psychology, besides regular practical and theoretical training.

The extra-ordinary league of some ex-SFA cadets
SFA Batch
Current employer
Pay Package (in Rs)
Lal Kamal Bhaumick
United Sports
85 lakhs
United Sports
60 lakhs
Gauranga Biswas
Chirag Club
20 lakhs
Arup Devnath
Pune Club
10 lakhs
Barun Oraon
United Sports

Once Bhaumick joined SFA, his exceptional talent at the game was immediately noticed by his coach and mentors. In year 2000, he led his Under-14 team in the Subroto Cup as a team captain. Two years later, the team won Gold under his captainship in the same tournament. Since then, there has been no looking back for the gutsy player. Recalls Bhaumick with fondness and respect, “I owe a great deal to one of my past coaches and mentor, Mr Polok Biswas. He not only trained me in the game, he taught me the very basics of interacting with people. He prodded me to my best capability. In 2004, I was offered a secure job with a monthly salary of Rs 15,000, and was very eager to join it. But Biswas sir didn’t let me; he insisted that I should continue with the game, since I was meant for bigger and better things. I’d have never found this life of success and respect had it not been for his timely advice.”
Cadets training in the multi-specialty gymnasium close to SFA Hostel

Roll of honour – SFA cadets who’ve gone international
Gurba Garai
Lalun Fela
V Lalchhuan Movia
HL Malsoma
Manik Biswas
Jyotish Basumatari
Vanlal Mawia
USS Reddy

After leaving SFA in 2005, Bhaumick joined Eveready Club in 2005. A year later, he went to Mohun Bagan were he was to play for the next four years. In 2012, he rose to the rank of vice-captain there, and started earning a package of Rs 20 lakhs. The quantum jump came when he joined United Sports in 2013 for a whopping deal of Rs 85 lakhs! In fact, another club based out of Kolkata was offering him more, but he chose to join United Sports because of the team he wanted to play with. 

SFA cadets shine on in clubs and organisations such as
Mohun Bagan (Kol)             
Tollygunge Agragami (Kol)
ONGC (Del)
Mohammedan Sporting (Kol)
Aryans Club (Kol)
Indian Oil (Assam)
East Bengal (Kol)
Air India (Mum)
State Electricity Boards
Chirag Club (Kol)
SE Railway (Kol)
Indian Army
BNR Club (Kol)
Eastern Railway (Kol)
Bengal Police
Central Railway (Bilaspur)
Central Railway (Mum)
Mizoram Police

Bhaumick’s fundamentals about life are as clear as his take on the game. Hard work, focus, confidence and ability to withstand pressure are the four pillars he stands on. Coming from an institution like SFA, he dreams of creating something of that order in the future. “Just like my talent was spotted and nurtured by others, I dream of opening my own academy where I can identify deserving youth and give them a chance,” concludes the genius.

1 comment:

  1. A thousand cheers to SAIL! Truly an institution! I am feeling so proud today.