The first-ever football match in the country between Indians and Englishmen was played on its ground. The traders and merchants of the East India Company were among its early members, while the memsahibs tried their hand at croquet on its lawns. Dennis Compton turned out in the club colours to play both cricket and football during the War years.
Now, Dalhousie Athletic Club (DAC), established in 1880, is planning to resurrect its sporting tradition by investing in the future. ‘Catch them at school and give them an early advantage’ is the new axiom for the oldest sporting club on the Maidan.
“We believe that you can’t excel in any sport unless you are exposed to the game early on. So, we are going to the schools and exploring with the respective principals the idea of including sports in their curriculum,” explains club president Utpal Chatterjee.
DAC, which kick-started its sports revival at the grassroots level with a cricket clinic for kids, between six and 12, a couple of years ago, is now putting in place dedicated academies to groom budding talent.
“It’s a pity that most of the city schools don’t have playgrounds,” the club president laments. “Our effort is focused on providing them with the early assistance they need.”
Tennis has been identified for the first integrated training programme, which will be volleyed off on Sunday by former Davis Cup skipper Naresh Kumar. The club’s grass courts, where visiting Davis Cup squads used to train, have been re-laid for the academy. “We are starting off with 65 schoolkids, mostly from Apeejay, while others, like St Thomas and St Joseph & Mary’s, have been approached. We hope to grow the field to 150 by the year-end and seal off entry at 200,” says chief coach Gary O’Brien.
DAC will have arrangements with the schools for monthly assessments. “We want to give them grades based on their progress in tennis, mini-tennis and fitness levels,” says O’Brien.
The club also has plans for a soccer academy in conjunction with city schools on the same lines. “After all, the Indian Football Association was born on this very premises and Traders Cup, the first-ever football tournament in the state, was played on our club grounds,” says Chatterjee. The management of the “historic and heritage club” is confident that its sports venture with schools from the nursery level will throw up a few Souravs, Leanders and Bhaichungs in the years to come.