Football, a major breakthrough for Churchill Brothers’ Anil Gaonkar

MANJERI: General perception says that Goa is one of the hubs of Indian Football, that the beautiful game is played and worshipped in every nook and cranny of the little state on the Western Ghats. So when a new exciting prospect comes out of the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, it is not much of a surprise.

However, Churchill Brothers FC Goa have brought to the fore one such player who did not have the luxury of growing up in an area where football enjoys as much popularity as some of the other sports.

Hailing from Sanguem, Goa, Anil Rama Gaonkar has impressed as an attacking player in the 2022-23 season of the Hero I-League, and is now looking ahead to some good performances in the Hero Super Cup.

“Sanguem is a little different from the other parts of Goa, namely that football is not the most popular sport there. Cricket, of course, is quite popular, but mostly, the people of my village play different sports as per the seasons. Football has always been more of a monsoon sport,” said Anil.

Luxury is something that the 25-year-old has never had, and is probably still in his own pursuit of happiness. Having lost his father at the age of one due to a kidney failure, Anil, along with two elder siblings were raised by their mother, who toiled hard as a daily wager in the fisheries.

“My mother has worked very hard to raise three children, and I feel that we are all doing fairly well at this moment,” said Anil. “Of course once I started playing professionally, it our financial situation has gotten a little better, but it is up to me to make our family much more financially stable hereon.”

The nifty winger, who has played a key role on the flanks for Churchill Brothers this season, grew up idolising Sunil Chhetri, bet was never really able to see the famous no. 11 in his younger days.

“It was a hard life for us, and we did not have any TVs either. So I never really watch football outside my town, when I was a kid,” recalled Anil. “I had heard a lot about Sunil Chhetri and his exploits from others, and that motivated me a lot. Later he also joined Churchill Brothers and won the Hero I-League with the club, so that’s when I finally saw him.”

In fact, Anil would probably have not taken up football, had it not been for his brother.

“We used to play casually among friends when I was a kid. One day my brother got these pair of boots, and I also wanted to try them on. It felt good playing in them, and I soon saw that I could do quite well. From then on, I have just kept playing,” he said.

Progressing from school to district, and through to the Sporting Clube de Goa U-19s, Anil finally joined Clube Desportos Vasco da Gama at the age of 19, and played the Goa Professional league for four years, before moving to Kerala Blasters reserves, where he also played the Kerala Premier League.

It was only in January 2023, when Anil first got his big break when he signed for Churchill Brothers in the Hero I-League, and the young lad has not looked back since.

“Playing the state leagues were tough, and physically quite demanding,” said Anil. “Once you get to the Hero I-League level, they encourage you to play passes and keep the ball. But when you’re playing a state league, the matches are much more physical. The teams try to put in long balls into the box, so you always have to be alert.”

Now playing some of the top sides in the Hero Super Cup, Anil aims to play in the National Team one day.

“I finally got my break in January, and I’m thrilled to be playing at this level. The I-League was special for me, and so is the Hero Super Cup, as I am getting to play some of the top Hero ISL sides,” said Anil. “In fact, we just played Mumbai City (1-2), and though we lost, we were right there with them till the very end. So I do not think there’s much difference, especially when a team like Mumbai does not include it’s foreign players.

“I feel that if I keep working hard I can get to a bigger stage in the future,” he said. “I know I need to keep working hard, and focusing on assisting as many goals for my teammates as possible.”

Also Read: Sreenidi Deccan prove two good for Kerala Blasters in Hero Super Cup

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