In his own words, Captain of the U14 team, Sujal Singh shares what selection for the OSCAR UK Football tour meant to him.
When I told my parents I had been selected for the first ever OSCAR UK football tour they did not believe me. They thought I was joking until Ashok Sir called and asked them to go to the office. When they realised it was true they were very happy and proud. They bought sweets to celebrate the occasion. Opportunities like this rarely happen for poor people in the slums. It made the whole community feel we are not forgotten. This tour was like a dream coming true. I was excited to meet the challenges of preparing for the trip. I was proud to be the first member in my family to have a passport and to travel.
The team had to work hard to prepare. We did many football-training sessions with Maruti Sir. Volunteer English teacher, Max Sir taught us English for three months and helped to get us ready for the flight and the customs in the UK. Selection was the best thing that has happened to me and I was very happy to be the Captain. I knew life would change and I would be responsible for sharing my experience with the community. I recognised I would have to be a good role model and lead by example. The tour taught me so much, helping me to develop my confidence and leadership skills.
We were very excited to sit on an aeroplane and we did not want to waste the experience by sleeping. None of us ever believed we would be so lucky. I loved it when the plane was landing and I saw Heathrow Airport and this huge expanse of London. I observed the greenery and the beauty. I loved it so much. We travelled across the UK in a coach visiting many amazing schools and making new friends. I will never forget the welcome we had from Hall Grove. 450 children wearing OSCAR t-shirts singing “OSCAR, OSCAR”. When we got off the coach we did a lap of honour, we felt like international players.
The schools in the UK are huge with so many facilities. In each class there was about 15 children, while in India classes sometimes have over 90. I am proud of the OSCAR team because we did not lose any matches. We played 10 matches, winning 7 and drawing 3. I remember in the first game, it was a tough match for us and I was being fouled a lot. So, I made friends with the person marking me and he stopped the persistent fouling!
Everything is very different in the UK, the cold weather, sleeping on beds and eating with a knife and fork. Initially I found the English food very boiled and a little different from what we eat in India but we all became accustomed to it. On our last night we had a sumptuous Indian meal… we had all been looking forward to eating biryani.
My trip to the UK has taught me discipline and how to be a good leader. I learnt the best traits from the people in the UK and it is incumbent on me to pass them on to my community. The trip has broadened my outlook and I want to share this with others.
In my school I have become a role model. My teachers all congratulated me and felicitated me with awards. My Principal has asked me to share my story and inspire the other children. Before the tour I felt very scared and diffident. I did not believe in myself. Now I feel very confident and trust if I work diligently I can reach my goals, irrespective of the difficulties. I have learnt to believe in my dreams.
Visiting the UK was an excellent life-changing journey for me and throughout my life I will draw on my experiences. I am full of gratitude to OSCAR and everyone in the UK schools for fundraising to give me this opportunity.
Sujal Singh, 15