“It fills me with immense pride to have not let my father down” – Abhishek Ambekar

Team FootballCounter went up and close with Abhishek Ambekar, the golden boy from Mumbai. He talks about his childhood, kickstarting his career with Air India, winning the I-League and achieving other accolades. He also shares his thoughts on the passionate fans from Bengal and the experience of playing in a Calcutta Derby.

 

EXCERPTS:  

 

When were you first introduced to football? Tell us about a few memories from your childhood and the people who motivated you to pursue the game?

I have inherited the talent from my family. Both my Grandpa and father were footballers back in their time. Growing up, I started showing keen interest in the game and my parents recalled that I showed knack towards football since I was a kid.  I was provided with other opportunities though. I played cricket, bat and ball etc. Soon,  during my school days, everything started falling into place. My parents received very positive feedbacks about by athleticism during the parent-teacher meet ups. Overall, my inclination towards football was recognized at a very tender age. 

My PT teachers and school mates started applauding and encouraging me when the matches were held in school. I used to take lead in bagging the goals. My confidence level with my own performance altogether started taking off more and more and it gave me utmost satisfaction. Ultimately, it became my dream to reach the top.

Lauding me for the talent I had, my parents, teachers and the well-wishers ensured to convey a very important message. Hurdles are going to be a part of this long lasting journey and sports alongside education is imperative.  I obliged. Till date, I’ve tried to effectively manage time and balance football and education. However,  throughout the journey, the person who needs a special mention is my Father. He has always stood besides me as a strong supporting pillar. My father fought with the world against their reasoning that he was allowing his child to enter sports rather than concentrating on academics. I distinctly remember him saying always to everyone that he knows his son very well and he can manage both. Today, I stand tall and it fills me with immense pride to have not let my father down.

 

Tell us about your early days playing football at school level, district level and MDFA. Some stories on the people who supported you and helped you grow?

The List of people who supported me and helped me grow is a big one which I shall mention later but prior to this I shall share my early days of playing football at various levels. When I was in Standard III, my potential for the game started gaining popularity and prominence at SMT Sulochanadevi Singhania School, Thane. I was unanimously chosen as Captain of the Football team and continued till I completed my Xth Grade. I was gaining momentum as my performance on Inter School tournaments were published by several media houses. I represented my school team at the Subroto Cup and played a 7s tournament for Maharashtra. 

Later on, I left Singhania School because my parents had opted for me to do science and pursue career in Engineering. The cut-off for Science at my school was 85% and I had achieved 76% in Xth Grade. Hence, my parents got me admitted in Vasant Vihar High School for Science & Arts, Lokpuram, Thane. During this period while playing for the College, I received an offer to join SAI Sports Club in Thane, which participated in TDFA Senior Division and later on MDFA Fifth Division. 

I was headed by a dynamic Coach named Kishore Sir for whom I have the highest respect. He guided and moulded me to become a prospective football player, which took my spirits to a very high level. I was strongly motivated under his guidance. Apart from him, Mansoor Sir & Amar Sir guided me during my School times. Kishore sir guided me in College, when we bagged the District level title. Yusuf Ansari Sir, Shyam Sawant Sir, Godfrey Pereira Sir, Anthony Fernandes Sir, Santosh Kashyap Sir, Naushad Mussa Sir, Bimal Ghosh Sir, Khalid Jamil Sir, Khogen Singh Sir, Sachin Badhade Sir, Shankarlal Chakraborty Sir, Alessandro Mendez Sir, Mario Rivera Sir, and everyone else has contributed hugely.  My deepest respects to all these personalities who have groomed me to become the best version of myself.

 

 

How was the experience to start your professional football career with Air India? Tell us about the Coaches who guided you to success?

I joined Air India Under-19 which was then headed by Godfrey Sir and Anthony Sir. Back in 2011, I made it to the I-League and was a part of the Air India Team, which was then headed by Santosh Kashyap Sir. It has been a wonderful experience to represent Air India in several matches and I participated and won many of the tournaments under the able leaderships of the abovementioned Coaches. One of the notable accolades was winning the Durand Cup back in 2012.

I joined Air India when I was in XIIth standard. My parents were sceptical at the start as they wanted me to become an engineer and thought I played football only as a hobby. It was a tough and crucial period of my life and I had to convince my parents that I wanted to take up football as my career. However, my father stood beside me during those trying times since completing my graduation was also an important requirement from the family side. I somehow managed to adapt both football and studies.  

 

 

How was the campaign with Minerva Punjab FC? What did it feel like to clinch the I-League trophy for the club in 2018? 

Winning the title with Minerva was not just by chance. It took a lot of hardwork and efforts right from day one.
We underwent very rigorous training during the pre-season. We used to wake up in the morning at 4:00 for hydrotherapy training and the reps went on till the count of 100-150! Later in the day, the training session was followed by some yoga sessions and then again field training. There were a lot of team bonding sessions. Thanks to Ranjit Bajaj sir and all the coaching staff  for planning it all.

We were disciplined and focused. The team had great understanding amongst each other. All the players worked together during the pre-season training and this led to the development of our team chemistry. During the games our confidence was sky high due to our training methodologies. Since we had gone through very tough training in the pre-season it was comparatively easier for us to manage on the field during the league games.

Minerva’s 2018 Squad consisted a bunch of lads with only one objective in mind, and that is to win the title. A lot of  fighting spirit from the players led us to achieve the feat. Winning the title with Minerva Punjab FC was a great come back for me and those memories will be forever cherished.

 

Tell us about your time spent at Calcutta playing for the historic two Clubs, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan? What do you think about the football culture in Bengal?

It was a great honour playing for both the legendary clubs East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. Kolkata is the epicentre of football in india. The fans and the crowd are crazy about football. People are very passionate about the sport. I must say they have a lot of respect for footballers. It was an out of the world experience for me to play in Kolkata. I’m indeed proud and honoured to be associated with both the clubs. The derby game is a once in a lifetime experience, I have never seen such a huge spectatorship in my lifetime cheering on together for their teams. The noise in the stadium is deafening yet so motivating. It was fun going for trainings as the fans came to watch and cheer even in the training sessions. People do fasting for their respective teams to win before the derby match. They visit the temples to pray for their teams to win. When Mohun Bagan wins, their supporters cook prawns in their home. When East Bengal wins, their supporters cook Hilsa in their house. Depending on this, the market rates of the fishes are also affected. Many of them believe in a lot of superstitions before and after the game. This is indeed a very beautiful culture that Bengal has developed relating to football and we all enjoy being a part of it. 

 

What is your take on the current situation of Mumbai Football? Do you think the city has enough facilities and management to meet the demands of the emerging players?

Once upon a time there were 5 top I-League clubs in Mumbai (Mahindra United, Air India, Mumbai FC, Mumbai Tigers FC, ONGC) but slowly and gradually they have diminished. Currently, there is only one ISL Club (Mumbai City FC) in the city which is very sad as there are so many young and talented players who are waiting for an opportunity to showcase their talent.

Because of the lack of sufficient clubs in mumbai such players have no other alternative but to play private and local tournaments and maximum they can do is play in the Mumbai League. Mumbai and Maharashtra has produced a lot of great legends. Our very own legend Steven Dias and Pune legend Paresh Shivalkar and many other amazing players. If I go to name them there will surely be a very long list. I am sure that there are more such amazing talents to be discovered but just need to be offered a proper stage and opportunity. I wish that the past glory of Mumbai Football is brought back and the city can celebrate their own legends again.

 

How’re you keeping yourself fit for the upcoming season? What is your take on football being played without fans at the stadium?

Considering the current situation of COVID-19 with the lockdown in our country and with limited resources available, I have fully geared up myself for keeping fit for the upcoming season to which I am eagerly looking forward to. My training and exercise continues twice a day (Morning and Evening) and I am also taking care of myself and maintaining a proper diet.  I include Cycling, Hill Running and Beach Training all after adhering to the social distancing norms and I take all the necessary precautions. Field training is necessary to maintain optimum fitness level and thankfully I have a ground in my colony and vicinity where I train.

For the first time in the history of world football, clubs are playing closed doors for such a prolonged time. It will be a totally novel experience to play without any audience. A very different experience as one can call it. However, under the circumstances such precautionary measures need to be taken for the protection of the people and we have to gracefully accept this challenge and go with the flow. I pray for all those who are affected by the pandemic and also urge all the others to take proper precautions to stay safe from the virus.

 


Also Read: Thank you Football, says U-17 WWC probable Sai Sankhe after securing 96.2% marks in Class X boards

For Trial related updates: Latest trials updates in Mumbai Football

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