"The thing about football - the important thing about football - is that it is not just about football" -- this memorable quote by English writer Terry Pratchett encapsulates the passion that can be evoked by the sport, an example of which was seen recently in the West Khasi Hills in Meghalaya, where over 350 children came together to take part in the first edition of the Laitkseh Golden Baby League in the 2019-20 season while overcoming a number of hurdles, such as travelling long distances, that too in the hills.
"In the first Laitkseh Golden Baby League, we had stakeholders and clubs come from far away on each match-day. We had clubs from many localities and different children from different communities take part -- many of whom would get up at 6 am and travel up to 70km on match-day - even from the farthest parts of our district," League Operator Gilbert Jackson told www.the-aiff.com.
"Unless they didn't have the passion and love for the game, no one would put in so much effort. That is the beauty of the game and the Golden Baby League. It is heartening to see that people are so concerned about the game and is a motivation for us to keep organising such events," he added.
Despite the logistical challenges of distance and travelling in hilly Laitkseh and its surrounding areas, the organisers recorded a perfect attendance rate across all age groups as the children made the football field "their home". "All the children were so excited about the league, especially since it is a nation-wide initiative. The ground is in a remote location but still, it makes them feel at home. Not even a single team from any age-group missed a single match-day. It was the first edition of our Golden Baby League and the rate of participation was perfect. It's amazing to see the response," Jackson said.
The Golden Baby Leagues project was launched in 2018 by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) for children aged between 6-12 years with an aim of providing access to football irrespective of gender, religion, economic background or ethnic origin and grow a new generation of boys and girls that start playing the sport from an early age.