In recent times, the Kalna Super Soccer Club has played an important part in popularising football in the district of Kalna, West Bengal. The club has organized tournaments like the Kalna Independence Cup as well and it also runs a number of free football coaching camps across the district. In April, 2011, Subir Roy, a former India International and chief mentor of the club announced that the club will be organizing a unique tournament which would include U-17 teams from some of the reputed Academies in Indian football. Roy had a clear-cut plan and he had already finalized some of the teams that would be taking part in the competition.

The club didn’t back out on its promise and organized what was easily one of the best managed youth tournaments in recent times. As promised eight teams took part, but more importantly, this tournament was truly an “All India” version, with under-17 teams coming from different corners of the country.

A Truely “All-India” Affair

From Goa, SESA Goa made the trip. SESA has been one of the foremost youth academies in Goa for a while now and has produced players like the Franco brothers. The club has also taken part in I-League second division and performed admirably despite fielding youth teams. From North India, Maharana Pratap Sports College sent a 19-member strong team under the tutelage of Tarun Negi. Mohun Bagan and India U-23 midfielder Manish Mathani is a former graduate of the same institute.

PFC has been taking a concentrated and well planned approach in the grass-root level. Under the stewardship of Ranjan Chowdhury, PFC looks all set to emerge as one of the top academies in Indian football in future. They were the only team from Maharashtra to take part in this tournament.

Any youth tournament will be incomplete without the participation of Tata Football Academy. A new batch of U-17 faces arrived from Jamshedpur – some of these players may play for India in future given TFA’s track record. Three local teams completed the roster – Mohammedan Academy, Mohun Bagan-SAIL Academy and Dukhiram Football Academy. Started in 1976 by legendary coach Achyut Banerjee, the Dukhiram FA is named after Dukhiram Mazumdar, a talismanic official for Aryans FC, who would scout unknown players from villages and turn them into stars. During early part of 20th century, Mazumdar was one of the most respected talent scouts and football experts in India. After struggling for some decades the Academy was revived by the likes of Surajit Sengupta and Krishanu Dey, who worked as coaches for the budding footballers. Hundreds of youngsters graduating from this Academy are spread across the country. The Academy suffers from perpetual lack of funds but that hasn’t daunted the spirit of its organizers.

A scene from the final match

Mohun Bagan-SAIL Academy has been steadily churning out players for the last eight years. Players like Souvik, Dibyendu Duari have graduated to Mohun Bagan senior team and played a number of matches in last season’s KFL.

The tournament didn’t start on the best of notes, as Mohun Bagan-SAIL’s first match had to be cancelled because of pouring rain. The players seemed to be overtly inspired by the on-going Copa America tournament, as most of the matches lacked goals and had to be decided by penalty shootouts.

The Tournament

SESA Goa started strongly against the team from Dehradun in the opening game. Glen Martins and Jason Vaz came close to scoring but couldn’t break the deadlock as the match remained goal-less at half time. Mervin Borges was denied by the MPSC goalie Jigwan, who saved the former’s spot kick at full stretch. SESA finally broke the deadlock, when Vaz turned in a cross from left-back George D’Souza. The match ended with a 1-0 win for SESA.

In the second quarter final neither TFA nor Mohammedan SC could score a goal, as the match had to be decided by tie breaker. The U-17 Mohammedan players couldn’t deal with the pressure, as they missed two of their spot kicks giving TFA a place in semi-final.

Pune FC Academy did justice to their reputation by carving out a narrow 1-0 win over Sambalpur Academy. Mohun Bagan-SAIL’s rescheduled match against Dukhiram Mazumdar FA finished at 1-1 in normal time. In tie-breaker Mohun Bagan-SAIL’s players made no mistakes with their kicks, as Bagan emerged victors by a 5-3 scoreline.

SESA Academy caused a major upset when they knocked out TFA in first semi-final. Like the first match, SESA started brightly but was pegged by a fine string of saves from the TFA custodian. In second half Mauvin Borges gave SESA a 1-0 lead with a well-placed volley. Ten minutes after SESA took the lead, Captain Amrit Singh restored parity for TFA with a firm header. It finally came down to nerves, as another tie-breaker took place. SESA’s ‘keeper came to the rescue, as his save off the TFA’s 4th spot kick handed SESA a 5-3 victory.

Mohun Bagan-SAIL and Pune FC fought tooth and nail in the other semi-final, as neither team was able to score a goal. The likes of Sonu Kumar and Saikat Das were especially impressive against a well drilled PFC outfit. The competitive spirit turned ugly, as both teams had a player ejected during the match. In the end Mohun Bagan-SAIL came out unscathed with a 5-4 win in tie-breaker.

Mohun-Bagan SAIL Clinch The Title

The final was attended by close to 12,000 spectators as well as stalwart footballers like Sayeed Nayeemuddin and Tanumoy Bose. Bagan took the lead within five minutes, as Manipur’s Priyobonto Singh headed in a cross from right-winger Souvik Das. SESA struggled to cope with Mohun Bagan-SAIL’s pace and power for rest of the match. Seven of the eleven players of Bagan-SAIL team have been playing together from nursery level and their mutual chemistry was breath-taking. As referee blew the whistle, joyous celebration broke amongst the youngsters. The occasion was especially special because the Academy had just celebrated its eight birthday last week.

The winning team received a cash prize of Rs. 20,000 while the runner-up received Rs. 10,000. West Bengal Sports Minister Madan Mitra praised the organizers of this tournament and handed them a cheque of Rs. 25,000 from his fund. SESA FC’s Mauvin Borges was selected as player of the tournament while Mohun Bagan-SAIL’s Sandip Dey was Man of the Match in final.

In India Academy players don’t always get enough competitive games so fans would be hoping that this novel initiative continues in coming seasons as well.