Former Portsmouth Striker James Keene has branded his Indian Experience ‘crazy’, mixed with a penchant of ‘comical’ scenarios. The 28 year old who plays for John Abraham’s North East United made his Premier League for Portsmouth and has played under Harry Redknapp. North East United plays host in the beautiful city of Guwahati, a place, where Keene, has had many ‘hilarious’ incidents.
‘Getting around the place is mad , we’ve driven through floods, farmers walking their cows, goats, and sheep everywhere, 10 cars in two lanes, it’s crazy,’ recalls Keene.
‘Agents can make things sound very glamorous and we went to Shillong – a small village at the top of a mountain where one of the owners is from – to do some promotion work. You’d be lucky if there were three bars, no internet and there was absolutely nothing to do. After three day, my wife Catrine went home!’ adds Keene, pointing out to the varying contrast between poverty and wealth.
‘We’ve got a good training pitch and stadium. But that is the only good pitch in an area of five million people – the rest are terrible,’ he comments
‘Kids playing bare footed on a hard, mud pitch. Cows walk around on the street. The people don’t have proper clothes, they’re just wearing rags basically. It’s quite a dirty country and there is rubbish everywhere. Just past our swimming pool are tin shelters where people live. The extremes here are massive. You feel sorry for the kids, they’re not even playing with a proper football.’ recalls Keene
The Englishman, who is a well known figure in Sweden, his ‘adopted’ country, has somewhat studied the Indian Traffic deeply.
‘There will be a dad driving a moped with the mum on the back holding the two kids. Every car is ruined because they just hit each other all the time.’
‘Cows are Holy and you get a £400 fine if you hit one! I would never, ever drive here in my life and thankfully we have drivers. But they use their arms as indicators and never stop tooting the horn, it’s 24/7 – they use the horn more than the brake.’ concludes Keene, who started for NorthEast United alongside Joan Capdevila, in their 1-0 win against Kerala Blasters
James Keene, who was the only English representative in a foreign club, in Europa League or Champions League, last time around, has also been a keen observer of the Indian Players, playing alongside him.
‘The young Indian lads have a lot to learn. They only start playing when they’ re 15 so they don’t understand football like we do, like the concept of taking the ball to the corner if you’re winning late on. But they’re improving, even in the five weeks I’ve been here they’ve got better.’ he comments.
Keene rightfully points out to the lack of Grassroot football in the country, next.
‘Grassroots football just isn’t there. Cricket is fantastic – there are nets and pitches everywhere. But this is the aim of the ISL – trying to get football out there to the kids. They are distributing hundreds of thousands of footballs’
Keene lastly points out at the brilliant crowd support and encouragement that the fans have given the team, in their opening fixture.
‘Our first game was incredible, 35,000 people were there and it was live on TV. There were fireworks, bands and all sorts going on.’ he adds.
James Keene, who spent six years with Elfsborg, whilst turning out eventual top goal scorer, will be looking to make his mark in the Indian Super League, and hoping for a chance to represent Sweden, soon.