Jeakson Singh Thounaojam, who, on Monday became the first Indian to score a World Cup goal, was a passionate footballer even in his childhood, as recounted by his mother Bilashini Devi.

Devi said she and husband Deben Singh wanted their son to become a bureaucrat. The 16-year-old, though, was adamant on taking up the game. “Jeakson was a topper and Amarjit Singh [India captain] was second from class two to four in the local school. We wanted Jeakson to become an IAS officer but he did not agree at all. He took to the game when he was four years old. We have a small playground in front of our house and he would play all day, even skipping food in the process,” Devi was quoted as saying by PTI.

“I remember once he fasted for more than two days for telling him he should stop playing football and concentrate on his studies. After that we did not tell him again. Since his father was also a footballer, we stopped pressurising Jeakson and gave him permission to play football,” she added.

Deben played for local sides in Manipur and was with the Manipur Police football club. Two years ago, he suffered a stroke, which left Devi as the only bread earner of the family, who are based in Haokha Mamang village in Manipur’s Thoubal district. Devi, who was in Delhi along with her husband to watch India’s matches, said that she had goosebumps when her son scored India’s equaliser against Colombia to enter his name in the history books.

“We had not thought he would score a goal but suddenly it happened and I was having goosebumps. We were happy thinking that our son played for India and even scored a goal. In the next minute, even before the celebrations died down, they (Colombians) scored. I was a bit let down. It was very sad. It would have been better had India won,” she said. “My phone has not stopped ringing since 10 pm last night. My relatives and friends from Manipur have been congratulating us for Jeakson scoring the goal,” said Devi.

After being ignored by former coach Nicolai Adam, Jeakson Singh (centre) nearly wanted to jump off an aeroplane | Image credit: PTI
After being ignored by former coach Nicolai Adam, Jeakson Singh (centre) nearly wanted to jump off an aeroplane | Image credit: PTI

Momentarily, we are forgetting our hardships

The India U-17 midfielder’s mother sells clothes in Imphal, 25 kilometers from her home to make ends meet. Devi also reminisced the extreme lengths that her son would go to have a kickabout: “When his father told Jeaskon to study, he will do that for 10-15 minutes and then disappear. Once his father steps out, Jeakson would close his books and head out to play football. Even in rains, he and Amarjit will play football by covering their heads with plastic sheets.”

Devi says family’s deep financial turmoil has left the family struggling to bear the incidental expenses during their stay in Delhi. “We cannot ask the AIFF to bear the cost of everything, we cannot ask them to pay for small personal expenditure. But for us, it’s a financial issue for even incidental expenses here. We have to restrict ourselves. We are poor and we have come here to watch our son play but it is a burden on us. We have suffered a lot of difficulties but Jeakson is playing at the World Cup. Momentarily, we are forgetting those hardships.”

He wanted to jump out of the aeroplane

Jeakson and Amarjit are cousins and had both left for Chandigarh in 2010 as nine year-olds, and were admitted to the Chandigarh Football Academy. Later, Amarjit was selected for India U-17 camp in the AIFF Academy at Goa in 2015. Jeakson joined the camp only in March this year. “When Amarjit was selected, Jeakson initially told us he was also selected. But since he was very tall [then coach] Nicolai Adam thought Jeakson could be over-aged and was left out. When he came home that year, he said he thought of dying by jumping out of the aeroplane.”

Devi said she and her husband now hope for Jeakson to become an Indian great in the years to come. She said: “Football is his future. We want him to play in big clubs and be a successful player. We want him to continue his passion – not only for money but he should be successful.”