After 6 weeks, the inaugural season of Mumbai FC Masters League supported by the MDFA came to an end yesterday. Over the past few weekends, more than 1700 children from over 40 different schools and 30 academies played football at three venues all over Mumbai. Matches were held at Andheri Sports Complex, St Xaviers Ground, Parel, and Kick Football Turf in Powai.
Mumbai FC worked together with the Mumbai District Football Association (MDFA) and For Young Indians (FYI) Sports to give the youth of the city a chance to play football competitively. Mumbai FC also used the league as a way to scout talented youth that they could train for their own youth teams. At the end of the league, 15 students from each age category (U8 boys, U10 boys, U12 boys, U14 girls and U14 boys) will be chosen to train with Mumbai FC for a whole year for free. As an open league, there were schools, academies and even NGOs who participated, with schools like Don Bosco and St. Pauls, and academies like Mumbai Sporting and Christ Academy sending in numerous teams.
The teams were divided into groups, and each team was given a chance to play 3 matches in the first round. This exposed the children to players who have a different quality, level and style than them, and gave them a chance to learn how to deal with competitive sports. The top team from each group qualified for Round 2, where each team played another 3 or 4 matches, with the top 2 teams from each location qualifying to play in the knockout round.
Yesterday, the quarter-finals, semis, and finals had a fabulous turn out. Parents braved the sweltering heat to cheer their children on as they played three matches through the day. With two 5-a-side matches being held simultaneously, there was a lot happening on the field, and it was quite difficult to keep up. The U8 final was played between St. Paul High School and Millat FC. After 20 minutes of play ended in a tie, the winner was decided by penalties where St Paul High School came out on top. Their coach engulfed his players in a large group hug, and congratulated them on a match well-played. Through the match, parents of both teams stood on the sidelines continuously encouraging their boys to play their best.
The U10 final was played between two Don Bosco teams. Once again, parents cheered on their children for 20 minutes of playing time, but both teams were unable to score. In the penalty shoot out, Don Bosco A managed to score a goal, while Don Bosco B missed all 5 shots, and Don Bosco A were declared the winners. The players and their parents were both a bit torn by the result, as it was difficult to enjoy a victory over teammates, but still amazing to have won.
The U12 final was a complete whitewash. Don Bosco’s Karsten D’Souza scored 3 out of 6 goals for his team, while the opponents, Kalina Youngster Sports Foundation, scored a solitary goal at the beginning of the second half. After the matches were done, we tried having a word with the young player who managed a hat-trick, but he was busy refuelling after a gruelling game, and gave us his name before running away and joining his teammates.
The U14 girls final was between Christ Academy and FCM Khiladi Connect. Both teams played well, and their coaches were continuously shouting instructions at them from the sidelines. At half time, the score was 1-0 in favour of Christ Academy, and they scored two more goals in the second half, ending the game at 3-0.
Kapadia Nagar KNFC and Palkaya FC were pitted against each other in the U14 boys final. Palkaya grabbed the lead early, but it was short lived as KNFC evened the score within a minute. Palkaya scored again just before half time. In the second half, Palkaya widened the gap scoring again. KNFC fought back, scoring a second goal in the second half, but a fourth goal by Palkaya ended the game 4-2.
We managed to have a quick chat with Don Arnold Danthi, the coach of the U8 champions, St. Paul High School. He spoke about how the league was great exposure for the children, and that they all got to play a fair amount of matches. While he was thrilled that his team had won, he stressed that winning or losing is not important for his young players. They enjoy playing, and just need more place and time to play. He did however also talk about how the league came towards the end of the season, when a lot of children had exams, so they were unable to attend matches and were forced to forfeit. Overall, he’s hoping that people are ready to organise more such leagues, and give his young boys an avenue to play.
At the end of the day, Aditya Thackeray, Chairman of the MDFA, Mr. Vijay Patil, Chairman of the D. Y. Patil Stadium, and three Mumbai FC players came to the ground to show their support and present the winners with the medals and trophies. Through the tournament, to encourage participation and take the importance off winning, each match had two players winning the ‘Man of the Match’ medal – one player from each team. The Mumbai FC captain, Taisuke Matsugae, along with teammates, Minchol Son and Ashutosh Mehta, encouraged the youngsters as they played their finals matches.
Just before the presentation ceremony, the three Mumbai FC players and Aditya Thackeray spent some time congratulating the teams, taking photos with them and chatting with them. As the final medals and trophies were given out, the parents and coaches cheered for their little ones. The inaugural season of the Masters League was definitely a triumph, with over 1700 children participating from all over Mumbai, with a few teams from Pune also playing the league. We look forward to the next such league, and hope that there is more participation, and that the youth who are scouted by Mumbai FC, like Ashutosh Mehta, stick with the club for a while, and go on to play for India!