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The Story of the Other Thapa of Indian Football!

We are not aware about lot of footballers who have done wonders during their playing days but are not much in the limelight after they end their careers. One such player is Avinash Thapa who was born in Kolkata and played most of his football there and in Goa. As a kid Avinash was inspired by seeing his brother play and quickly fell in love with the beautiful game himself. He grew up to become a midfielder of repute but now is in the shadows. We have tried to shade some light on this former star’s football career.

Samar ‘Badru’ Banerjee, an ex-Olympian and Captain of the Indian National team, a household name during his playing days in Kolkata was Avinash’s first coach. Then he trained under Ranju Dutt (Ranju da) and started to play age group matches. Though Ranju Dutt was not a well known coach the young boy learnt a lot about how the game is played through him.

Avinash quickly proved his mettle and was soon playing in the national tournaments. In 1998-99 he represented Bengal in the Sub-Junior Nationals and won the tournament. Tata Football Academy talent spotter Mohammed Habib was impressed by some boys during the tournament and Avinash was one of them. Soon he joined the famed Academy, which has produced so many talented footballers over the years and spent some fruitful years there learning more about the game.

He was then called for India Under-16 team and played in the Asian Qualifying Round. This was a big break for him and he gained lot of confidence. Then in 2001 Avinash played in the Junior Nationals and once again ended up as Winners. In between he was also called for the India Under-19 India Camp but could not make it to the final list, but this proved he had the talent to go all the way to the top.

He graduated to senior level with ease and soon played for Goa in the 32nd National Games and in the next edition he was once again part of the Bengal squad. Then in 2006 Avinash played the prestigous Santosh Trophy for Bengal and reached the finals. His performance was impressive, An Extract from the The Telegaph dated 24/10/2006 which reads with the Headline “Mondal, Thapa likely to get National call up” says it all.

Gurgaon: Less than a month ago, Shyam Mondal and Avinash Thapa were little known footballers, playing for relatively smaller clubs in Calcutta, unsure about the prospect of pursuing the game further.Two games against Punjab and Kerala in the Santosh Trophy here have turned the duo into near celebrities. So eye catching was their lion-hearted display that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has decided to call both for the national camp for the pre-Olympics immediately after the Asian Games in Doha.

But sometimes just sometimes in football you need more than just hardwork, dedication, luck, sweat, blood and tears may be Avinash didn’t have that something and he could not don the Senior India jersey. He was destined to play for the country but something somewhere went wrong. Avinash rubbed this aside lightly saying the coach of that time Bob Houghton was not impressed with his height but there might be more to this. Maybe he doesn’t want to remember the past and we should leave it there.

He has also played in all the main National level tournaments of India representing different clubs. The Major ones are the I-league, Second Division League, IFA Shield, Durand Cup and Bordoloi Trophy. The well known clubs he has played for are Sporting Clube de Goa, Vasco Sports Club, Calcutta Port Trust and Mohammedan Sporting Club. He played under the well known coaches like Clifford Chukuwama, Derrick Pereira and Aloke Mukherjee and credits them for shaping his professional career.

In the present times Avinash is married and has a child. He is working in the Indian Railways as a Senior Ticket Examiner, South Eastern Railway at Kharagpur Division, Howrah Station, not that far from the maidan where he started to dream about being a footballer one day.

This is a guest column by Saurabh Chamling!

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