A new goal for Liverpool

Published : Nov 19, 2004 00:00 IST

Liverpool Football Club comes to Kolkata with a social message.


IN his book On Aggression Konrad Lorenz wrote: "Sporting contests between nations are beneficial not only because they provide an outlet for the collective militant enthusiasm of nations, but also because... they promote personal acquaintance between people of different countries who otherwise would have little in common." This observation by the Nobel laureate ethologist brings out the valuable social role that popular sports can play. But the British Premier League football club, Liverpool, has gone a step further and initiated a programme to help underprivileged children of developing nations through the game of football.

Liverpool FC, through its social development wing called Football in the Community, has been involved in numerous development projects in and outside the United Kingdom. It is now exploring opportunities to promote development work through football in India, particularly West Bengal. Liverpool-based psychiatrists Dr. Norman Hindson and his Indian-born wife Dr. Chandra Ghosh, who are involved in the club's community projects in Liverpool, came down to Kolkata recently to identify areas in which the club can extend a helping hand.

"The reason why we chose Kolkata was not just because of the Marxist government here, but also because it is in a lot of ways similar to Liverpool. Both are port cities to begin with and both have a radical progressive outlook towards community and development." The purpose of their visit this time is also to try and build a link between the two cities through football - a common passion of their residents.

As a first step, the club has sent through Hindson and Chandra Ghosh the trademark red Liverpool jerseys bearing the number 17, made famous by captain Steven Gerrard, to be distributed among poor children. (Gerrard's jersey number, incidentally, has been recently changed to 23.) Two places where these jerseys were distributed were, Care and Counselling Centre, a Kolkata-based organisation for `special' children from weaker sections of society, and Panchagram, a remote village in Diamond Harbour, South 24 Paraganas.

"We, in our personal capacity, have for a while been involved in some of the education and development work that has been carried out in this village by the Panchagram Nabajyoti Shikshayatan, a non-governmental organisation. They were very keen when we told them about this project," said Chandra Ghosh.

The distribution of jerseys may mean very little to the poor but at least it marks a beginning, and more important, the children were thrilled. Most of them, apart from studying, work in the fields with their parents. Donning the red jerseys they became mini Gerrards and put up an impromptu five-a-side football match on a small bumpy piece of land, with bricks for goal posts. Though most of them confess to being diehard Mohammedan Sporting supporters, they are aware of Liverpool FC's exploits in the English Premiere League and could even name some of the players.

Saleha Begum, who runs the NGO said: "Now Panchagram can have its own football team. But we still need a field for the boys to play." Saleha is also trying to build up a girls' team. "I think it will be wonderful if trainers attached to Liverpool FC can come down once in a while and train our boys and girls. Along with promoting education, it is also important to promote physical exercise for the complete development of a human being."

The Mohun Bagan SAIL Football Academy is also interested in a tie-up with the Liverpool Football Academy. "We went to the Mohun Bagan Academy in Durgapur and were very impressed with it. We intend to go back and tell the LFC authorities about it and look at possibilities of a tie-up," said Hindson. Mohun Bagan Athletic Club general secretary Anjan Mitra said: "If this tie-up comes through, we are hopeful of a good coach from Liverpool coming over here to work with our boys. We are also looking at possibilities of our players getting more exposure by going to Liverpool and training there. We have given Dr. Ghosh and Dr. Hindson the necessary papers and are waiting for a feedback from them." Mohun Bagan's greatest rival East Bengal has a tie-up with Leicester city.

Both Hindson and Chandra Ghosh are aware that in India cricket takes the pride of place. But at the same time they believe that the glamorisation of football is bound to take place in the near future. "We have been to some of the matches of the recent Indian Football Association Shield and the energy generated by the fans was amazing," they said.

What LFC is looking at primarily is increasing the profile of football. "We are not interested in making money in these projects. We want to promote football and through that build ties and get involved in social work," said Chandra Ghosh. In the reported words of Rick Parry, chief executive, Liverpool Football Club: "Our mandate is community through diversity. By many varied projects, mostly, yet not exclusively football based, we want to reach out..."

LIVERPOOL FC's commitment to social causes and community development can be traced back to the socialistic ideals of the legendary Bill Shankly, who was the manager of the Liverpool team from 1959 to 1972. Shankly always stressed that football is not just about playing. It is a metaphor for being a part of a greater collective.

This is evident from the attitude of the club and its commitment to issues such as anti-racism, violence against women and the cause of the striking dockers. A banner in the football field before a match against Manchester United speaks for itself (tongue-in-cheek) of the club's stand on Iraq, "Don't nuke Iraq. Nuke Man U instead".

The club trophies are often taken to various schools and organisations in and around Liverpool to promote racial harmony. "We totally believe that the only colour that matters at LFC is the colour of the shirt. Similarly, we would like to address various social issues here through football," said Norman Hindson.

Over the years, the club has been involved in a lot of projects all around the world. In strife-ridden Northern Ireland, Liverpool FC hosted a three-day `Peace and Reconciliation' event attended by 750 youth from 24 different schools. The event consisted of coaching sessions, workshops on cooperation, communication and working together as a team.

In Mathare valley in Kenya where 600,000 refugees live in slums, football kits were distributed and coaching camps held. Similarly, in Eastern Europe, including Romania, Belarus and Russia, the club worked with orphans, organised camps for streetchildren and young people in prison. Now, perhaps, it is West Bengal's turn.

So it would be a generalisation to say, "Footballers think with their feet". Often it is seen that they act with their hearts too.

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