Ludhiana, July 28 : Punjab is today widely known to have produced various Hockey players for the national team, who brought laurels to the country at international level. But not may know that the State is also nurturing a breed of footballers holding promise for future.
Once dominated by Hockey enthusiasts, Punjab state is today doing almost equally well for the football world.
A lot of youngsters here today are drawn to football. And, efforts are on to nurture a range of promising youngsters in football. Talents at the grass-root level are being nurtured with the help of pubic support in different parts of the State.
One such product is Tarun Taneja of Mahilpur Village who longs to become a legend footballer like Maradona (Argentine) and Pele (Brazil).
Tarun considers himself lucky on being a student of Punjab's oldest and only government-run football academy in his village.
"I am playing football since standard V. I have played for the State and in the national level teams. My team stood third in the National games after being defeated by the West Bengal team. My father was an international football player. And, I also want to play at international level," said Tarun Taneja, the budding footballer from Mahilpur academy.
Mahilpur in today is to Indian football what Sansarpur was once to Hockey as the breeding ground of champions in Punjab.
Known as the football nursery, Mahilpur, a small town in the Doaba region, has the enviable record of having produced over 400 national and international players, including legends Jarnail Singh and Gurdev Singh, two of Punjab's three Arjuna award winners in football.
No wonder why does such a glorious tradition attract over 700 youngsters from all over the State to compete in the annual open trials for admission to the Mahilpur Football Academy here.
"Now football is turning professional in Punjab. Players from here are playing for leading clubs in the country and getting paid handsomely around 1 to 1.5 million rupees per annum. Manjit Singh Maan from this Club is now playing for Mahindra United, Harman Jyot Singh is playing Goa Sporting Club. There are so many players from Punjab who are playing for inter-state clubs," said Ali Hasan, Coach, Mahilpur football academy.
With 60 seats in three categories - under 14, 17 and 19 years - every year it weeds out poor performers and inducts fresh talent.
Over the years, Mahilpur has been supporting talents to the country's top football clubs. Housed in the Government Senior Secondary School, it has been drafting former top players to motivate its trainees and hone their techniques.
"There are so many NRIs and local people who are funding clubs with amounts like five to ten thousand yearly. Plus, there are people also who are giving us big funds around s. 80, 000 to 90,000 per annum like former minister Kulwant Singh Sanga, residing in England," said H. S. Bains, one official at the academy.
Remarkably, two other academies - at Rurka kalan and Nikke Ghumman - are being run through public initiative.
It is evident that the passion for football is on an upswing since the youth here view it as a passport to top clubs. And there are plans to open more such centers. By Karan Kapoor