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Homeless heroes on soccer high

- Raised by NGO and taunted by friends, World Cup call is their answer

Two homeless Calcutta boys who found in football the answers to all the taunts they have faced in life are headed for Poland to play a World Cup, no less.

Until a couple of years ago, teenagers Biswajit Nandi and Surojit Bhattacharya had to endure jeers from friends and rival players about their worn-out shoes, faded jerseys and humble background.

“We used to bear in silence their abusive words. They laughed at us. We never replied back. This (World Cup) is our answer,” Biswajit said after he and Surojit made it to the 16-member national team for the four-a-side Homeless World Cup in Poznan, Poland, from August 8 to 18.

They will be competing with players from 70 countries in the 11th edition of the tournament, held every year for the most underprivileged youngsters.

Top clubs send their scouts to the World Cup. Manchester United picked Portuguese striker Bébé after his superb performance in the 2010 Homeless World Cup. Biswajit and Surojit could be the next Bébé, who was abandoned as a young child by his parents and consequently placed in church care.

The duo grew up together from Class V to X at the Durbar Mahila Samanway Samity’s Baruipur home for children.

And like most Calcutta kids, they had a knack for kicking a football around — barefooted.

Biswajit recounted how he pestered a doctor associated with Durbar to buy him a pair of Rs 500 boots. He was 11 then. “We still depend on charity and sponsors to buy kits,” he said.

Seven years ago, coach Biswajit Majumdar saw the boys play for Rahul Vidayaniketan, where the duo used to study, at an Independence Day tournament. Though they lost the match, the coach could sniff the duo’s raw talent that cried for good training.

He took them under his wings. “They had to walk the coal pit, listen to unpleasant words about their families and overcome the hopelessness of being homeless. I told them to never lose hope and to keep playing. They did exactly that and persisted with their hard work,” Majumdar said.

The pep-talks paid off as the boys gained confidence. They have not missed a single training session, held thrice a week on the Rahul Vidyaniketan grounds.

Surojit, who now lives with his mother at Habra in North 24-Parganas, catch the local at the crack of dawn to reach the training ground. Biswajit comes from his north Calcutta home to join his partner for a gruelling two-hour practice session before school.

Juggling studies and football was not easy, but the boys have managed to balance both. “It used to be difficult, especially before my Class XI Board exam. But football is my first love. Everything comes second,” Mohun Bagan fan Surojit said.

The left-winger would sneak out of the Durbar home to catch Barcelona and Messi on TV at the local club. “I saw Oliver Kahn from this distance (spreads his hands to give an idea) when he visited Calcutta in 2008,” he said.

They made it to the national team riding the Durbar team’s attention-grabbing 56 goals in the National Slum Soccer Tournament in Delhi last December. They will join the 14 others in the team for Poland at a training camp in Nagpur in July.

“There will be one striker, two defenders and a goalkeeper. We will have to be good at every position. It’s going to be tough and exciting,” Surojit said.

At the moment they have two worries — passport and protein. “I am a minor and hence the passport office wants a clutch of documents. It’s a cumbersome process. But then, I had never dreamt of visiting a European country to play football,” Biswajit said.

Their coach Mazumdar has been worried about their diet. “One must eat well because football requires stamina. Durbar has helped them as far as possible to provide them a protein-rich diet. Even then nutrition remains a problem,” he said.