Watching one of the biggest football matches in the country inside a jampacked stadium is every football fans dream. On Tuesday, when India and Bangladesh faced each other in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers in Kolkata it was also a moment to remember for the 25 kids who got to experience the thrill of what it feels like to play in front of 61,243 people.
15 boys and 10 girls, aged between 6-12, were among the lucky ones selected by AIFF to walk out on the iconic football pitch at the Salt Lake stadium to escort the players and referees onto the pitch while dreaming to be on the other side one day.
All of them are a part of AIFF’s Golden Baby League project to develop football in grassroot level.
Among them was nine-year-old Aishika Paul who started taking football training from the age of 5 while she was in Doha, Qatar. Getting to see her favorite stars on the field and cheer for the national side was a thrilling experience for her.
“Seeing my brother Ashmak playing football in SFQ Foundation in Doha, I started to grow interest in the sport. After joining the same football school with my brother, I started to participate in grassroots festivals where I impressed the local coaches,” a beaming Aishika told the indianexpress.com.
“The local coaches then handed me with to play in local grassroots leagues where I started winning accolades for my team. After coming to Kolkata, I have joined German Football Academy for training which led me to participate in Baby Leagues in Kolkata.”
“I wish to play like Lionel Messi one day and represent my country at the FIFA World Cup,” she added.
Another, Nishesh Chhetri walked out of the tunnel holding the hand of someone he shares a name with, Indian captain Sunil Chhetri. Nine-year-old Nishesh hails from Lava in West Bengal’s Kalimpong district.
Among them were also a group of triplets- 2 girls and a boy from Kolkata’s New Town are. 6 year-old Aarya, Bhavya and Shaurya.
Launched in September last year, Baby Leagues have been a hit in several states of India.
It marked the renaming of the ‘AIFF Baby Leagues’ to ‘AIFF Golden Baby Leagues,’ with emphasis being laid for ages under 6 to under 12 as they form the golden age for learning, both for girls, and boys.
The AIFF has invited all stakeholders including state associations, clubs, academies, schools, non-government organizations, parents, coaches, football fans to be a part of this grassroots player development initiative.
The AIFF is now stressing to popularise the sport among the kids aiming to have every kid playing football under 6 to under 12.
The number of participating children reached 21,471 last year itself and it rose to 43,575 this year, according to the figures provided by the All India Football Federation (AIFF).