ON SATURDAY, as the 18-member Indian junior team for the 7th Sultan of Johor Cup in Malaysia was announced, 16-year-old Chandigarh Hockey and Football Academy trainee Sukhjeet Singh called up his father Gurdial Singh to tell him about his inclusion. With his father running two 1.5-ton trucks from the village to cities nearby to make a living, it was a dream come true for the CHFA trainee.
Besides Sukhjeet, forward Maninder Singh and defender Sanjay Kumar, both current CHFA trainees as well as part of the Indian camp in Bengaluru at present, were also named in the junior squad that takes on Japan on October 22.
“When I started playing hockey in my village, my father always supported me. He would mostly visit home after two-three days but whenever I asked for any kit, he would bring me that. When I shifted to CHFA, he would specially come to see me train. When I told him about my selection today morning, he told all his friends in the transport sector that his son is going to play for India. When I started, I idolised Sardar Singh and last year, we played a practice match against his HIL team. In the junior camp, we also interacted with him and to get tips from a player like him is a privilege,” said left-back Sukhjeet, a student of GMSSS-37.
If Sukhjeet is one of the key defenders for the team, classmate and academy-mate 17-year-old Maninder Singh will be among the leading forwards of the Indian squad. Maninder, who belongs to Bagarhia village near Sangrur, scored 13 goals in the Nehru Cup for Chandigarh in 2013 and 12 in Chandigarh’s title win at the Jammu sub-junior nationals in 2015. Maninder once again showed his mettle, scoring seven goals during Chandigarh’s title win at the sub-junior nationals in Bengaluru.
“It is like a dream come true for us. While training at the academy, we would often see senior Indian team players and foreign players play in HIL and would also play practice matches. And, to get an opportunity for the Indian junior team is the biggest moment of my life. Training under coach Jude Felix at the national camp and under our academy coach Gurminder Singh has helped our game. I talked to Gurjant Singh, who scored the all important goal in the junior World Cup final last year and he told me our target should be the senior team now,” said Maninder, whose father Harkirat Singh is a farmer.
17-year-old Sanjay Kumar, whose father Neki Ram owns two acres of land in Dabra village near Hisar, had scored 17 goals, including a hat-trick in the final of the 2015 sub junior nationals. This year also saw Sanjay, a penalty corner specialist, scoring a total of 12 goals to become top scorer in the tournament, including two goals in Chandigarh’s final win over SAI in the sub-junior nationals.
“I started hockey in my village with borrowed hockey sticks as our monthly family income was Rs 10,000-12,000. When I joined the academy, there were no training expenses, which was a big relief for me. My father always wanted me to play for India and getting a junior team call-up means a lot to the whole family,” gushed Sanjay.