Beyond The Pitch: Provat's Story

December 20, 2018

 

I was born in 1997 in a town just 60km north of Kolkata, Kalyani. We used to stay in a one-room house in a park. I went to Pannalal Institute in Kalyani and by the time I was seven or eight, I was obsessed with sports, not just football.

 

The love for the game began when a football camp for kids was organized in my neighbourhood. The organizers announced free jerseys for the kids and that's all I needed.

 

I had just one football jersey, I still remember a red Manchester United jersey that I would wash and dry after my morning practice to make it ready for evening practice.

 

Following the footballing camp, I was forwarded to the Kalyani Municipality Academy but that drew some stern reaction from my grandfather, who was an authoritarian figure in our family. My grandfather was unbending in his stance of me playing football at the cost of my studies.

 

At this point, I was just raving for football and would do every possible gambit to play football and escape the problems in my home.

 

During this time, my mother was somewhat supportive to let me play with my friends, but she would often draw the ire of other family members for supporting me.

 

I used to reach the field first before anyone would arrive irrespective of the seasons, be it the harsh sun, heavy rains or cold foggy mornings. I had to be there before anyone else, I wanted to play as much as I could without wasting a minute.

 

I believed nothing could come in the way or stop me from playing football. I did not have a proper bag to carry my kits and used to carry my boots in a plastic bag every day to practice. Morning practice was from 07:00 am to 09:00 am, I used to give it my all. After the practice, we used to get a bread loaf, bananas and boiled eggs and I used to freshen up at my home before rushing to school. The morning practice sapped all energies in my body and I often used to doze off in the classes.

 

I was playing under Coach Debabrata Biswas as a striker and was selected to play in the ‘Nursery League’ as a striker, but unfortunately did not feature in the playing XI. In one of those matches one of our midfielders got injured and due to lack of replacement, the Coach asked me to play as a striker for the last 15 minutes. In those last 15 minutes, I put three crosses and two were scored. Those 15 minutes changed my Coach’s perspective about me and he started to put me regularly in the playing XI as a winger or a right back.

 

In 2009 as I was still facing hardships to sustain my football, my family suffered another setback. Our house was razed down by the civic authorities in order to widen the roads and we were forced to live in temporary shelters under tarp sheets. And to make matters worse, this was the year when Aila storm caused havoc across Bengal. The devastation was so severe it almost left us penniless with no shelter, no food or clothes to wear.

 

My father worked as a house painter and earned meagre daily wages which hardly contributed to the daily welfare of the family. It was really tough to watch my family go through such difficult times. This suffering made me stronger; the anger, the frustration, the rage forged like iron inside me.

 

 

In 2010, Betul Oil came to Kalyani to recruit young players for their academy in Madhya Pradesh and my family were adamant about not letting me go. I was so fixated to go, I told my mother," either you let me go or I will run away from home". Finally, after much deliberation, she let me go with whatever little money she could save working as a domestic help in houses.

 

But all my dreams came crashing since I was not selected in the academy and I broke into tears, I was sobbing inconsolably pleading to the Coach.

 

I was gutted but had to get back to my hometown Kalyani just 10 days before the secondary exams. I couldn't bear the burdens I was piling on myself - the studies, football, and the family relationships.

 

The difficult childhood and my dreams to become a footballer didn't mix well. As a child, I have witnessed strains in my family relations that is hard to put down in words. Things were extremely tough while growing up and were hard to endure. Especially the way I had to endure my father, who was not really an ideal figure in our family. 

 

I still had to mediate in my family, continue my studies and practice football twice a day and not let each and every element affect the other.

 

For a young man of 17, few things were beyond my control, but I chose to fight. Giving up was not an option. I could not let my dreams fade and work in a menial job. I successfully cleared my secondary exams and my childhood Coach arranged for a trial with Bhowanipore SC's U-19 team for the youth I-League.

 

The first day of the trial and the coach of Bhowanipore SC was mighty impressed with my playing style and I was signed by the club.

 

But that season I vented out all my rage in the game, I was a tough-tackling and rough kid. Brutal on the field and never shied away from a fight or contest. I picked up 5 yellow cards and 2 red cards and for me, football was all about blood, sweat and grit.

 

 

The Coach at Bhowanipore SC liked the fire in me and wanted me to promote me to senior team because he wanted a fiery character in the team who would not shy away from the contest.

 

This was a crucial point in my career that left me in a fix. I wanted to play in a senior team where I would get substantial playing time rather than being a bench warmer. For me football was everything, to be out there fighting it out for those ninety minutes.

 

Bhowanipore SC had a strong team with the likes of Jose Ramirez Barreto, Hudson Lima which heightened my dilemma.

 

This was 2012, back then Bhowanipore SC offered me a substantial 20,000 Rupees salary per month but it did not guarantee me any playing time.

 

With the fight against hardship I was facing at home, this would have been a rational decision, but I chose to sign for the first division and a then relatively unknown side, Pathachakra SC, for just 2000 Rupees per month.

 

In my first game for Pathachakra, I came on as a substitute against FCI. The match was a tight game between both teams and in the 60th minute, I scored from a long-range strike helping my team win 1-0 in my debut game. It was an amazing feeling. To come on help your team by scoring a goal like that! I'll always remember it.

 

To sustain my family, I was playing local football tournaments, popularly known as 'Khep Football' in Bengal. But I played only to sustain our family's daily expenses and never let the greed of money creep into the passion and love I enjoyed as a kid running around with the ball in his feet.

 

Next year Pathachakra's sister club, United SC, was playing in the U-19 I-League and I was drafted into the team at the very last moment. I bought my first Adidas football boots around this time for 1500 Rupees.

 

My footballing journey was slowly taking shape as I could see myself competing with bigger, stronger opponents and having an impact on the game.

 

My first senior game in the Calcutta League against Peerless SC did not go as planned. I was given a red card in my first match playing as a midfielder but I had a good game.

 

Former Indian player, Subrata Bhattacharya, saw the potential in me to be a defender and drafted me alongside a foreign defender against George Telegraph.

 

My fellow defender and the captain both foreign players were not happy to see a young nineteen-year-old playing as a defender against a competitive George Telegraph side, they showed their disapproval very strongly. Though a bit disappointed realizing my teammates don't have enough faith in me I channelized my emotion to the game and managed to keep a clean sheet and it changed the perspective of the entire team towards me.

 

By the end of the season, Southern Samity signed me for the second division I-League and I was also selected to play for the Bengal Santosh Trophy team in Goa in 2017 and we won the competition. I was selected as the best defender and was summoned for the U-23 National Camp under Stephen Constantine though I did not make it to the final squad.

 

I was still with Southern Samity and I used to wake up at 4:30 am every day while it was still dark outside and during winters the thick fog sets in. I used to rush to the railway station to catch the train at 5:30 am to attend the morning practice. With the chill setting in, the commute to the morning practice was challenging. I did not have proper winter wear or could afford jackets, so I used to wear layers of clothes and tuck in old newspapers inside my clothes to save myself from the cold and wind.

 

In the 2017-18 season, I finally got the big break. Coming from the back of a strong season in the Calcutta League I was signed by Gokulam Kerala FC to play in the I-League. It opened a new door of opportunity for me as I experienced a whole new footballing culture and infrastructural setup. I enjoyed my playing days in Kerala and we did well as a team competing in the I-League for the first time.

 

In 2018, ISL came calling and I had few lucrative offers from other clubs as well. I might sound repetitive but Provat Lakra needs just one thing - game time, Provat Lakra wants to play, Provat Lakra wants to start and play every minute, every second. Running up and down the side channels, putting in tackles, pressing players that's what Provat Lakra wants.

 

 

So I decided to join NorthEast United. At that moment, I couldn't be happier. I am happy, I made my decision and the way I am being handled by a tactician like Eelco Schattorie has helped me evolve into a smart thinking side back. The structured training has helped me identify my role as a side back and also what I need to do during certain game situations.

 

I enjoy a special friendship with Girik Khosla in the team and I enjoy being part of this NEUFC family where no one is bigger than the team.

 

Football and God's grace has helped me overcome the financial hardships and I am building a new house for my family. I enjoy a special bond with my mother and sister and that motivates me to go out and fight it out on the football field to bring joy to them. They often visit me during my games and their support has been a driving force.

 

I never received the support of my father and my mother had to go through so much while bringing me up. Today I stand wherever I am due to my mother and I will keep fighting for her on and off the pitch and let no harm or problems come her away.

 

That's all my childhood has taught me and that’s all I’ll ever know, Provat Lakra is a fighter and he will fight to the end for the love of his family and the love for the game.

 

 

 

 

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