The District Cup by Mallika Ravikumar
My take on the book:
In the quaint town of Maulsari, Siraj along with his partner Chung ran the Eagles Football Club and coached local kids. For over ten years, Siraj passionately coached young kids, teaching them technique the hard way; while Zubair who owned the Strikers FC used age fraud to let kids of his club compete against younger players in their respective age groups.
When Siraj complained against Zubair to the district association, the higher-ups who are corrupt and inefficient, instead of punishing Zubair, snatched the practice ground from Siraj. Zubair also often lobbied for his club kids to be included in the district team.
The kids who played in Siraj’s club as U-13 team also had their personal challenges. Prithvi’s father who owned a sweet shop believed sports is not a career option and that Prithvi should concentrate on learning their business. Kadambini’s grandmother aspired for her to learn classical dance instead of football. Kadambini had to face bias from the boys in her team as well. Mangya who earned meagre daily wages for his family by performing as a behrupiya always dreamt of playing in Siraj’s team.
Siraj had his own issues — his son’s autism diagnosis that he is unable to accept, on other hand being honest with the authorities created unwanted troubles. Post the pandemic when the district cup is played after a two-year gap, will Siraj’s Eagles FC be able to overcome their personal hurdles and the external challenges created by the association forms the rest of the story.
Stories of kids training in Football in a country crazy for Cricket are rare. The lack of encouragement to kids who are passionate about the sport, infrastructure that is almost unavailable and the few public grounds that are either littered or used for all other purposes than what they are meant for, coaches who will resort to any sort of foul play to make their clubs popular, government associations that are run by inefficient members, gender bias that keeps girls away from sports, and above all age fraud that kills the entire spirit of the game and budding talent — the author rounds off so many aspects related to sports in our country.
However, the highlight is the author does not get preachy while touching upon enormous list of issues. All the characters in the story – the kids or their parents or the coaches, are relatable and take inspiration from characters we come across every day. The author also adds the technical details of football with ease into the narrative that a person reading about such details for the first time will also understand them without feeling overwhelmed.
With each passing year, as schools are run in congested spaces without a basic playground and kids bearing unimaginable stress owing to increasing competition in studies, stories like this are essential to help young minds know about sports and the challenges that come along on the journey to becoming a champion.
Highly recommend this book to all young adults and their parents as well.