Many years ago two brothers sailed out to the sea with their father, hoping to learn how to catch fish – something that men in their family have always done. However, the Indian Ocean is a rather unforgiving environment, especially for youngsters.
One of them fell terribly ill, unable to bear the sheer stench that surrounds local fishing boats in Tamil Nadu. Wretching his guts out for the larger part of two days, he did not have the heart to eat anything for almost 48 hours.
Upon their return to the shores of Eraviputhenthurai, a small fishing village near the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border, their father, who has been a fisherman all his life, looked at his two children and made an earnest request, “Sons, our family has done this for generations. But I do not want either of you to have to go out on a fishing boat ever again.”
Rather than taking up their family profession, these two boys were encouraged to study and take up various curriculums in their school. Ten years on, these two boys are fully-grown men, who have leapfrogged out of their respective boats, and onto the football pitch. These two are Regin M and Michael Soosairaj.
Chennai’s other quartet
Indian football fans have been amazed by Chennai’s ‘Spanish Armada’ – Pedro Manzi, Nestor Jesus, Sandro Rodriguez, and Roberto Eslava – this season. However, they have another quartet in their ranks, one that keeps the indigenous identity of the football club intact in an age when local talents often ignored by clubs all over the world.
The presence of Regin M, Pravitto Raju, Shem Marton Eugene, and Rajeevan Soosaidimai have helped Chennai in more ways than one, as they sit on the top of the table in the race for their maiden Hero I-League title.
These four players, along with Michael Soosairaj, who had mesmerised one and all with his skilful displays in the middle of the park last season (he has now moved on to Jamshedpur FC), have helped bring a large number of fans into the club that is merely a few years old now.
All of them are from two villages – Eraviputhenthurai and Marthanthurai – which are not more than a kilometre apart from each other. These two villages have provided enormous support to the club due to their connection with the four local boys.
“We are all looked up to as heroes whenever we go back to our village,” said Pravitto Raju. “Whenever I am driving around, little kids point at my car and start shouting ‘Look, there’s Pravitto-anna’.”
A land where football is overtaking fishing
The families in these two villages have been dependent on marine life for their income for generations. However, that trend is slowly starting to change.
“Nowadays, more and more parents are encouraging their kids to not take up fishing,” said Ragin. “Rather, they are all encouraged to take up studies in various disciplines, or in our case, sports.”
“Football has always been popular in our villages. We have grown up watching our seniors play sevens football, and gone on to play the same alongside them, before joining colleges and other professional clubs,” said Shem.
Every festive season brings with it, new local football tournaments, and from these new tournaments emerge, new heroes, who often attain a cult following amongst local fans.
“When we had started out playing football, our parents were a bit apprehensive. They would rather have us make a career out of being an engineer or a doctor,” said Rajeevan. “But seeing that we have made it in the world of football, other parents in my village have started to actively push the kids towards the sport.”
Coming together under one stand
The success of Chennai City and the local boys has not gone unnoticed in their respective villages. Their families, friends and acquaintances from these villages are set to make the trip to Coimbatore, come matchday on March 9, when the 12th Hero I-League title will be decided.
“Our parents, with a number of extended family members and friends from the villages, are coming just to see us be crowned champions on Saturday,” said Pravitto Raju. “Them being in the stands will act as extra motivation for us to perform better.”
“We have worked very hard throughout our lives to go from being the sons of fishermen to becoming Hero I-League champions. It will be an emotional moment to see our loved ones in the stands, watching us play on the biggest stage in our country’s domestic football,” said Regin.
Whatever be the outcome on the final day of the 12th Hero I-League season, the two villages of Eraviputhenthurai and Marthanthurai have made an immense contribution to local football, with so many of their sons leaving their fishing boats to don the football boots.