Leaving India!

Yes, after an amazing three months in India this post comes to you from the decidedly less exotic locale of my room in Enfield, United Kingdom (well it started there, now im in Indonesia!) and is accompanied not by the endless beeping of rickshaws or the Indian-accented barking of the dogs outside our apartment but by the familiar, somewhat comforting, drizzling of rain outside my window and the (thankfully) muffled dialogue of the grey’s anatomy episode being ignored by my sister in the next room. Although leaving the kids and Delhi behind was hard London will always be home and India has given me a whole new list of seemingly everyday things to enjoy, English pubs, side salads and, perhaps biggest of all, being able to brush my teeth with tap water! Being home has also, however, left me with the immense task of attempting to sum up the last week and half of our time in Delhi in a post that isn’t; A- rivalling War and Peace in the word-count stakes or, B- rivalling The Notebook in the self-indulgent-emotion stakes.

To do this I think its best I started where we left off, after our game on Monday and a subsequent IYSA session we were booked in to take two one-off sessions at Dunveer (another coach in the programme)’s school, St Marks.  To start with we took a one hour session with some students from the school, given the younger group I, utterly predictably, took a skills corridor session attempting to get the kids to understand when best to take big or little touches which went just about as well as skills corridor always does whilst Ali did a control session with the older group. After an hour of this in the late morning sun I was starting to wilt in the extreme heat but we just had time for a quick drink before moving onto our second sessions of the day, this time with ‘Angels Academy’; an organisation set up to help get street kids’ lives back on the right track through football. Despite the heat this session was up there with some of the most enjoyable I took over the three months. Taking the older group, which included 4 or 5 girls, I did a basic session on passing, one-twos and overlaps which they took to really well, despite there being some decent talent on display the thing which really impressed me was the politeness, cheerfulness and unity of the group who were an absolute pleasure to work with. I was particularly impressed with how seriously a few of the older kids took their responsibilities as role models and leaders, organising the groups, helping with translation and generally acting as assistant coaches whilst participating in the session, ensuring it ran a lot smoother than it might otherwise have done. After our sessions with the Angels and Ali had distributed out various boots, shirts, socks and shinpads donated to his foundation we headed over to the P.E offices (with a quick detour so I could teach Dunveer an absolute lesson at badminton) for a lunch of Masala Dosa’s, one of my favourite Indian foods. Good Day.

Having covered all the topics we had planned by the start of April Ali and I decided to use the last two weeks to hold some higher-level sessions for the under 14 and 16 advanced groups in the hope it would give them some things to continue working on  after we had left. After both taking sessions on attacking movement in the non-too-distant past we decided the first few of these higher-level session would focus on ‘third man running’, with me taking the first session. After a sluggish warm up the group improved hugely when we moved onto a drill encouraging third man running in conjunction with shooting, showing a big improvement in their finishing as well as movement. Due to the success of the shooting/third man running drill I decided to use it, with a few progressions for the next day before we finished off our third-man-running-week with two sessions jointly run by Ali and myself based around a modified version of a game called noughts and crosses which we had been taught by John at Hale End (Arsenal’s academy).  Although originally a possession game we added some small goals to make its primary purpose third man running as players would have to play the ball into one of their teams’ two corner zones before making a run to one of the neighbouring goals to try and score. The size and scale of the drill enabled us to play ten a side on both games and work on a number of different aspects of play, after some initial teething problems with the kids bunching or trying to hit too many ‘hollywood’ passes the standard of play gradually improved beyond recognition, their ability to grasp and perform well in a drill which was probably the most difficult any we had done was a true testament to the talent, drive and determination of the kids, and hopefully maybe a little to our coaching ability!

Our last Sunday provided us with the opportunity to test the boys’ good work in training with another match, this time playing against Navyug school who were coached by Mr. Kaliya and came into the game with the reputation as one of the best teams in the region. The game was also our first away from the IYSA ground which we had turned into somewhat of a fortress with two wins and none conceded in our previous two. Despite this we entered the game in a confident mood, buoyed by the fact we were able to name an unchanged squad from the one which won comfortably the previous week.  This confidence was soon to take a blow however as, about a minute before kick-off, our captain and centre midfield dynamo Prakash had a heavy fall on the hard Navyug turf and had to be taken to hospital where he would later be diagnosed with a broken wrist. The loss of our talisman was a big blow and forced us into a late reshuffle of the starting lineup with Morwin coming in to play on the right wing and Rohilla taking the armband, leaving us  with a, by now familiar to regular readers, team of:

GK: Christopher

RB: Kapil

CB: Pradeep, Arbaaz

LB: Ajay

DCM: Rohilla ©, Aditya

LAM: Rishab

CAM: Gatu

RAM: Morwin

CF: Vivek

Subs: Deepak, Juvraj, Mark, Sahil, Hemant.

Despite being able to name a strong side our confidence took another knock when we saw the other team take the field as, instead of the school team we had expected, we had clearly been booked in to play against the Monstars from Space Jam. At least three of the opposition were the same height as me and a few may or may not have had their wives and kids watching from the stand (holding a razor for their half time shave), not that I wish to cast any aspersions on the validity of their status as an under-14s team but I would be very surprised if the opposition did not have at least a few 16 year olds playing, which made our task all the more difficult when you consider that we four players under 12 in our match squad and none much above 5 feet 5. Despite this, what our team lacked in height, weight and age we more than made up for in technical ability and Josh!

After the first few minutes the game soon settled into the pattern which would last throughout, with our team dominating possession and making most of the running but the opposition looking the more dangerous on the break with their ‘indian’ style of football (think Bolton circa 2006) as Abdoulaye Faye would smash the ball to big Kevin Davies up front who’s physicality was a bit much for our defence containing just one teenager to deal with. Despite playing some lovely football, particularly down the wings our own attack was finding the superior strength and pace of the opposition a major obstacle to creating clear cut chances, time after time our midfield managed to play our attack in behind their back four only to be caught up and muscled off the ball just before pulling the trigger or getting in a cross.

After the first fifteen minutes or so it was clear that, after winning the previous two games easily, this was comfortably the most difficult game we had been involved in and our players responded to this challenge fantastically with each and every individual working harder than we had ever seen them, personifying the ‘Josh’ in our team name by throwing themselves into challenges and pressing the opposition right around the pitch, our attackers working particularly hard to win the ball back off defenders far bigger than themselves, an effort which was almost rewarded with a penalty in the second half only for a marginal decision to be awarded as a free kick just outside the box. Despite these truly heroic efforts we could not find the winner that our effort and second half display in particular deserved and the game ended in a 0-0 draw. Although this was the only game we hadn’t won I was more proud of the players after this than any other, easily beating poor teams is one thing but to stand up physically to a team much older and bigger than yourselves whilst completely outplaying them football wise is fantastic. What most impressed me was how all the team, including the subs kept to our footballing principles throughout; keeping the ball on the floor and dominating possession whilst showing off some of what they had learnt in the week before with a number of fantastic forward runs and through balls, all of which were built on the basis of an extremely solid defence, led by the fantastic Pradeep which did not concede a goal in over 180 minutes of football. After a number of fantastic individual performances it was difficult to pick a man of the match and so the award was shared between Rishab and Mark Stallone. Mark is a player who hasn’t necessarily played as much as some of the rest of the players but whose performance against Navyuk proved he is definitely not one of the Expendables of the squad with a Ramb(o)unctuous performance coming on in the lone striking role. His effort, endeavour and exceptional first touch throughout his time on the pitch gave the defenders a really Rocky time of things, efforts which were almost rewarded by drawing the foul which could well have been given as a penalty and would have resulted in First Blood to the IYSA and possibly provided us with an Escape to Victory, alas it wasn’t to be and after running himself into the ground he came off for a well-deserved break with ten minutes to go as it is, of course, important to realise when a good thing has run itself out rather than run the risk of continuing it with poorer and poorer results. (In all serious he played fantastically well, and thoroughly deserved the award, not just because his name provides stunning punnery).

After the game we treated the boys to Pizza Hut (well, Ali’s mum did) to celebrate our time together and were joined by our injured skipper who was far more upset about the fact that he can’t play for a month than any damage to his wrist! We also heard that he refused any painkillers whilst at the hospital, kicking the doctor who tried to force some upon him… warrior!

After the match our last week was largely one of goodbyes, goodbyes which I would like to be able to show you but cannot due to losing my phone whilst worst for wear in Islington on Friday, and so I’m left to paint a picture with my words, a difficult task as I only really have space for about 300 more, 700 less than required…

After a number of dinners with Arup’s friends and the coaches our first proper goodbye came on Thursday with our last session at Moti Bagh School which saw us play our last (of many recent) tournaments before Ali doled out some more kit and we went to Mr Kaliya’s house for a cup of tea and one last look over the scrapbook detailing his illustrious career (I’m sure I mentioned he played in front of 30,000 people?!) before saying goodbye to someone who I now consider one of the biggest legends I have ever met, a man over 70 who comes to training at 6 every day before going to coach his own team in the afternoon…absolute hero. Our second goodbye came later that morning as we had our last Literacy India session, after working for three months with almost exactly the same class it was a pity that some of them absent for our last session having gone up a year whilst we in Goa. Despite this the ones who were there gave us a great send off, singing all of the songs we had taught them back to us before giving us home-made leaving cards, and in the case of Ankit drawing us a lovely picture! After sharing a samosa with Miss Neetu and Miss Rekha it was time to go, a goodbye that felt even more emotional than the earlier one as the kids’ appetite for learning and sense of fun has made such a pleasure to teach over the last three months. Luckily I managed to bag, amongst others, Lalit’s , probably my favourite kid of of the lot, card which among the others we received will be going straight up on my wall!

As emotional as they were both our goodbyes on Thursday were really just warm-ups for our final IYSA session the next day, after finishing our packing during the day we headed to the ground early for a meeting with the coaches to discuss any questions they had about the sessions we had done and what they intended to do after we left. Despite initial apprehension about advising coaches much older and more experience than ourselves about how to run sessions the meeting went really well, the coaches putting us at ease by asking a lot of questions and being greatful for the chance to look at our resources, even going so far as to say they had learnt stuff of us which was all a bit embarrassing really! After the meeting we had took our final sessions at IYSA, Ali working with the u-14 level two players whilst I had a last chance to work with the special group. Leading on from the day before I took a session based on possession and switching the play which I was very happy with, the last session finished with one of my favourite coaching moments of my time in India, after first telling the group they were to play a short pass to a player on the outside (before receiving the ball from another ‘outside player’ at the other end of the square) only under pressure and teasing the idea of the switch during the session, when doing my debrief I asked the group when else they could utilise this pass to which Gatu, who as regular readers will know has been consistently excellent, immediately answered ‘to switch play to players in space’ (or words to that effect) which was the major objective for the whole session. Its moment like that when coaching feels brilliant.

After the session Ali shelled out for (delicious, by the way) Kebab rolls for all the players and coaches after which came the proper goodbyes. After an official goodbye on the field, featuring the official Josh song and a few speeches from some of the staff and kids we spent another 45 minutes or so on unofficial goodbyes, pictures and autographs, particularly with members of the Special Group who, after coaching every day for three months we had gotten so close to. After these emotional goodbyes, with tears from more than a few of the kids (around the same time as I got something in my eye/had an allergic reaction) we headed home to finish packing, say goodbye to Robi and answer a couple more emotional house and phone calls from the kids before it was time for Ali to head off to the airport and, after a nap, my turn to follow.

With that I left India and, although my short time at home and trip to India hasn’t given me much time to think about it, I still can’t really comprehend not working with the special group everyday, even now a week into my time in Indonesia I still find myself sure I’ll be going to the ground soon. All I can say is that coaching in India was without a doubt one of the best things I’ve ever done and probably will ever do, as a coach it was a perfect experience as I went from essentially a junior coach in England to planning 3-months of sessions for over 150 kids in 3 age groups! I’ve definitely grown a huge amount as a coach and can’t thank IYSA enough for the opportunity they gave me and can’t wait to demonstrate my new skills in Indonesia.

It was however, of course, about a lot more than football (getting dangerously close to ‘notebook territory’ now I know, but bear with me). The truth is Delhi is a fine city, it has good aspects and bad ones and the fact that it was so brilliant for me is down to the people I met there. With that in mind I would like to thank everyone I worked with over there, my co-coach and friend Ali, Mr Kaliya, all the coaches at IYSA, Rupen and Khilna for showing us around and making us so welcome (and taking us bowling!), Anuj and Vinod for being absolute heroes, Arup for organising the opportunity and putting so much faith in us and, of course, all the kids. Whose attitude, talent and sense of humour have been an honour to work with and all of whom I consider ‘Meri Acha Dost’ (my good friends) and Meri Chota Bhai (my little brother’s! ).  I’m sure I’ll be back!

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