This football academy in Kochi is building a national level women's team

DL Clement and coach Manu Kunjumon, who set up a football academy for children of Rajaji Nagar colony, want to set up a women’s team that plays for India’s football tournaments

author_img Mahima Anna Jacob Published :  19th October 2021 12:22 PM   |   Published :   |  19th October 2021 12:22 PM

While commercial sports in the country thrives on vanity, Kochi's Clements Academy stands for children who cannot afford shoes, but have the will to dream

For the residents of Chengalchoola colony (now Rajaji Nagar) in  Thiruvananthapuram, football is an emotion. D L Clement personifies it. He does odd jobs during the day to make ends meet for his family but is also the oil that keeps the sporting spirit of the children from the area burning. Clement is the distance between their frail, Indian Jersey-donned bodies, and dreams of scoring winning strikes. 

Four months ago, Chengalchoola got a football academy exclusively for women — Clements Academy, as the residents decided to call it. Including professional football coach Manu Kunjumon, they just had six students and zero facilities. Regardless, the team started their skill workouts — ball passing, ball control — on Clement’s terrace. “My daughters Febha and Alpha are football players.

They asked for my help to set up a women’s team. In 2014, when I went to Trivandrum Central Stadium to see my kid’s game, I met Manu there. We couldn’t do much then, but when he came down to his hometown in Valiyatura, the plans slowly started taking shape. We just want to help these kids understand their potential, and train them to represent India in international stages,” says Clement.

Soon the six-member women team began to grow. They shifted practice to a school ground nearby. Now, Clement’s Academy trains 63 students, including 22 women from Manacaud, Puthencotta and many other areas. 

The school ground, already being used by many other athletes, were in a dilapidated state. Clement, Manu and few other members pitched in whatever they have to revamp the space, clearing up landfills and weeds. “Despite having cleaned it, we can only use the centre portion of the ground, which can barely fit two three-member teams. The rest of the ground still requires maintenance, and the area has sharp rocks, so it is unsafe to play. We hope we get some financial help to do that. As of now, we cannot practice long pass, long kicks, and shooting practices,” says Manu.

As far as Clement knows, Chengalchoola never had a football academy. “I was surprised to see how fast the team grew. The kids never had space to practice freely or get professional training. Recently, my friend started a football academy which has 18 members as of now. I am happy to see such initiatives coming up. I am happy for the children,” he adds. Despite financial constraints, the duo never asked for fees from their kids or stopped anyone from learning because they cannot afford it. The children pay their masters if and when they can. “Though it is hard for us without any additional income, we want to give them all the lessons so they can excel in football, secure stable government jobs, and thrive doing what they love,” says Manu.

More for the children
Children who are just five to 20-year-olds train at Clement’s academy and most of them lack basic football gear. None of them even had jerseys when they joined. “Recently, Travancore Royals members sponsored jerseys for our students,” adds Clement. Though the academy can give daily practise sessions and opportunities to participate in tournaments, good shoes and gear are integral for boosting their ability. “The balls we play with is worn out. The kids play in groups as most of them share shoes,” says Manu. The priority now, for the duo, is to get the ground fixed so more kids can play at a time. 

“We have approached many for sponsors, but no help has come through yet. But we won’t stop. We want to start a women’s team that plays in the nationals and beyond,” says the duo. That dream is taking shape slowly. Three of the academy’s women team members will represent the Thiruvananthapuram District Football team. They even have a differently-abled player — a brave one named Roshan Lenin. 
“He never fails to amaze me. He has some difficulty in speaking too. Nevertheless, he puts in the time and effort and plays as well as our other players,” says Manu.

Eyes forward
Three of the academy’s women team members will represent the state capital’s district Football team. They even have a differently-abled player — a brave one named Roshan Lenin. “He never fails to amaze me. He has some difficulty in speaking too. But he puts extra effort,” says P Manu, their coach.