For Devesh Chhetri the dream of playing football almost died especially after he had to leave his home town Darjeeling for the sake of job. It’s been three years, Devesh has been working in the hostel industry in the India’s commercial capital Mumbai.
But now, Chhetri can see a ray of hope to realize his dreams of playing football again. Thanks to Northeast Rangers FC, a team made of the players from northeastern states who are working in different factories, restaurants and other places in Mumbai.
“Yes. It’s a great thing for us. I always wanted to football but after leaving my hometown, it looked like impossible. But now, I think I can realize my dream of playing football again,” Devesh told The News Mill over phone from Mumbai.
For many like Devesh who have been away from home in the need of a livelihood, they have found a team of their own – the NRFC – probably the first club which represents the northeast players to play in the Mumbai District Football Association (MDFA).
It is Ozu Barua, a Mumbai-based professional footballer from Assam who started the club. Ozu started the club to give an opportunity to the northeast players in Mumbai.
“The northeast states have some of the talented football players. I was thinking this for quite some time. Finally decided to get together the boys who are working in various factories and restaurants, who have played footballs either in school level or in their locality before shifting to Mumbai for work. After three years, finally we are ready with a 16-member team,” Ozu, son of celebrated Assamese filmmaker Jahnu Barua told The News Mill.
The team will start playing in the 3rd division league of MDFA from September this year.
“MDFA is a well known league and gives a chance to the players and teams to showcase their skills, quality and talent. Northeast Rangers mainly focuses on improving the situation and help the players continue living up their dream to play,” 21-year-old Ozu added.
This year, the team will be practicing hard so that next year they can perform as per the expectations.
“Although team is complete, still there are a lot of things to do. We are looking forward for more sponsors. We have got an amazing coach Akshat Shetty who has experience with many major clubs and has also some experiences in the MDFA. Our first practice match hopefully will be held by this coming September,” Ozu said. He now plays for Dadar XI in the Mumbai first division.
The team comprises of mostly young players with the oldest player being 27 years. If these players can perform better during the league, they might get better platform to play in Mumbai and elsewhere.
“We have already spoken to their employers for leaves when the league goes in full swing. We are also thankful for the people who have supported us,” Ozu, who also trained with Fateh Hyderabad Associated Football Club, said.
This will also be the first team as such from northeast. To meet the criteria of MDFA, NRFC has included 30 per cent of local players.
Hekkei Kaihe Capri, a student of University of Mumbai from Nagaland’s Mon district, is also pretty excited to be a part of the NRFC. “I love football and I’m more than happy to be playing football again. I think this is a great opportunity for me as well as my teammates from northeast. I hope we will have better days,” Hekkei who plays both in the right and leftwing told The News Mill. Hekkei used to play for Youngster FC in Mon district before coming to Mumbai in 2017.