Irony of ironies, Ripon Kumar Das of Faridpur, once a budding footballer who was selected to attend a special training program at no less a citadel of the sport than Manchester United Football Club (MUFC) just eight years ago, is today earning his keep as a sweeper - just not the kind granted the liberty of roaming the football pitch a la Franz Beckenbauer, but rather one of the most neglected and lowly occupations in the country.
People involved with football in his locality think that wrong decisions in terms of career choices made for him by the District Sports administration and Bangladesh Football Federation has forced this situation on him.
Ripon used to play football in the village field from his childhood and his passion for football drew many people’s attention from a young age. As years passed by, he dreamt to be a footballer.
Panta Das, mother of Ripon, said “Ripon is the eldest son of my two sons. My younger son Tapan is too young to do anything. So Ripon had to follow his father’s footsteps and become a cleaner. If not, we would have faced starvation.”
Nazmul Islam Khandaker Levy, general secretary of Faridpur District Sports Organisation, said a 12-member team of budding youngsters in their early to mid-teens, including Ripon, had been chosen from across the country to go train for 10 days at Manchester United’s famous Carrington facility in 2012. The trip was facilitated by Airtel, the mobile network that has since been merged into Robi Axiata.
During those ten days, the young boys got footballing tips from members of the MUFC playing squad, as well as coaching staff. After returning to the country, he had to return to his home district Faridpur due to lack of supervision by BFF, Ripon said.
Later, he joined as a sweeper at Faridpur Road and Highways Department for maintaining his family, he added. Even then, after finishing his routine work, he would always find his way back to his field of dreams, the local football field, where none could take the ball off his feet.
Pranab Kumar Mukharjee, coach of the District Football team, said “Ripon has a passion for football and whenever he got a chance he went to the ground for practice purpose. He still has a dream to be the best football player in the country.”
Abul Kashem Bhola, general secretary of Faridpur Football Association, said “Very few footballers as talented as Ripon are found in the country. If BFF had played its role properly (of cultivating talents), he would not have to do this job.”
Bhola still believes Ripon will get opportunities to fulfill his promise.
“I am working as a sweeper due to poverty and I do this thinking about my parents. I had a wish to be a popular football player. When in England, renowned footballers (including the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown and others) trained us and they taught us how to play better, but on returning to the country there was no opportunity to put what we learned into practise.”
Like the true footballer he is at heart, and certainly with his feet, if not by his occupation, Ripon only wishes to use his skills on the field to bring joy to the people watching.
“If luck smiles, the government shows some initiative, then maybe I will be able to please the spectators on the field with the ball again,” he said.