Soccer success

Son of Kolkata sex worker scores goal, is selected to train with Man U

The son of a streetside snack vendor will head to Old Trafford.

Every morning, 16-year-old Arko Dey helps his mother run an eatery selling telebhajias in a cacophonous north Kolkata neighbourhood.

For hours, the mother and son fry sliced potatoes laced with gram flour paste. Some days, when sales are brisk, the cash box is full. But there are also days when very few customers turn up.

The lives of mother and son swing between hope and despair.

Last week, a tearful Dey told his mother that the family’s troubles could soon be over.

Dey has been selected to train with the U-21 team of Manchester United, the world’s most followed soccer club, and will soon be heading to Old Trafford.

It was like a street actor being selected for a part in a Hollywood film. In August, Dey had participated in the talent hunt in Goa, where he impressed Manchester United soccer school coaches.

“My mother wept,” said Dey. “We live in abject poverty. She knows nothing about Manchester United.” When she heard the news, she walked more than 5 km barefoot to pray for her son at the iconic Dakshineswar Kali temple.

Dey said his mother was shocked when told the family’s monthly earnings of Rs 2,000 is the cash required to pay for a tour of the Manchester United ground.

Dey, who does not even have a passport yet, wants to join a top Indian club on return. He wants to leave his one-room home in Baranagar that lies close to a highway where backfiring trucks and belching taxis create Kolkata’s worst traffic snarls.

“I do not want her to sell fried vegetables anymore,” he said. “I am confident of my earnings. No one ignores a footballer who has trained with Man U.”

Around the same time that Dey found a reason to dream, a similar hope emerged from the despair of Sonagachi, the north Kolkata neighbourhood that is home home to an estimated 12,000 sex workers.

Rajeeb Roy, the 16 year-old son of Rekha, a sex worker, was told by his coach of his selection to train at Man U.

“It was like a father’s recognition,” said Roy, his voice choked with emotion.

Roy said he has been praying for a breakthrough in soccer ever since he started playing as a boy.

The 16-year-old is a class IX student of Rahul Vidya Niketan in Sealdah, a school for sex worker's children organised by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee that funds a soccer initiative among children of sex workers in West Bengal.

"I was very nervous when I met the coaches from the Manchester United. I knew I had to perform to get selected," said Roy, who helped West Bengal win the National Slum Soccer Tournament in Nagpur in 2014.

He plays as a frontliner and loves to dribble, his idol being Oscar, the fleet-footed Brazillian footballer.

He knows that, like him, Oscar also came up from poverty to make a mark.


Rajeeb Roy and (above) Arko Dey.

 
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