Milind Deora (centre) presented QPR jerseys to the four players. Left to right: Yohaanne Poonawala (Bombay International School), Aditi Pandire (Sai Baba Path Mumbai Public School), Sagar Rathod (Colaba Municipal Upper Primary English) and Nishka Prakash (Edubridge International).
Milind Deora (centre) presented QPR jerseys to the four players. Left to right: Yohaanne Poonawala (Bombay International School), Aditi Pandire (Sai Baba Path Mumbai Public School), Sagar Rathod (Colaba Municipal Upper Primary English) and Nishka Prakash (Edubridge International).

Mumbai: Four teenaged footballers from the city are a privileged quartet, as they take off to White City, London, for a ten-day football camp at the Queen Range Academy. What makes it extra-special is that among the four is Sagar Rathod, the son of a gardener and Aditi Pandire, a taxi driver's daughter.

Rathod and Pandire's talent and passion for football have earned them a place in the team. The wiry 13-year-old lad waits patiently at the Cooperage Ground, Colaba for his turn to juggle with the football. From the way he controls the ball, it is clear he is made for this beautiful game. He is smiling as he does so.

“Yes, this will be my third trip abroad for football training, and I am happy to be one among the others,” says Sagar, running his fingers through his hair, like any other kid.

It was his good friend Umesh who introduced him to the game three years ago and he started playing the game with his school shoes on. "No, I did not have football boots, and when I started playing, only after repeated requests did my father buy me a pair,” said Sagar.

For this youngster, the day begins at Ambedkar Nagar slums, Colaba, at 9 am. His first duty is to fill water, while his elder brother works as a delivery boy. His mother sells fish at the Sassoon Dock while his father is off to the Cricket Club of India for duty.

“I have been playing the game since I was seven. I love the game, and maybe that is the reason why I have been picked,” said Sagar, a Class 8 student at the Colaba Municipal School. There have been many a hurdle Sagar has faced in the pursuit of this dream.

"I'm so happy today. When Sagar would come home and tell me that he had scored goals, I would feel very proud. Everyone told me my son is very talented and that I should encourage him, but I'm a poor man. What can I do? He has achieved this on his own. At times, I didn't even have enough money to give him for his daily traveling expenses but that never stopped him from going to practice," says Gopal, Sagar’s father.

The story of Aditi Pandare, the eldest in a family of four (two sisters and a brother) is not too far removed from Sagar's. Her father is a taxi (Uber), driver. But she will be the first one from their family to fly when she takes off for London along with the others on October 2.

“I will be the first person from my family to fly. I am waiting for that moment,” said Aditi, who has been playing competitive football for two years. The striker has lost count of the numerous goals she has scored. She wants to be a professional footballer.

“I want to don India colours and do the nation proud,” said Aditi. Speaking of his daughter, Milind said he once happened to watch her play while on his way home. “It was a proud moment for me to see my child, the student of a municipal school play against other big schools (private)."

The other members from Mumbai who have made it to the squad are Yohan Poonawala (Bombay International, Babulnath) and Nishka Prakash (Edubridge International, Grant Road).

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