The Spanish connection

Players of Club de Santivicenti, Spain, pose ahead of a training session in Anantapur.-

The Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh is slowly making a mark in the nation’s sporting map, with generous help from its Spanish friends. By J. R. Shridharan.

In Anantapur, a district known for its arid terrain in the south-western part of Andhra Pradesh, the very mention of Spain brings smiles on the faces of the people. The soccer-crazy European country is doing its bit for the promotion of the game in the district, known over the years for bloody factional feuds.

At the forefront of this endeavour is Moncho Ferrer, president of the Anantapur District Football Association (ADFA) and the programme director of Rural Development Trust, a non-government organisation working in the filed of healthcare, women empowerment, environment, sports and education development. The trust was formed in 1969 by Moncho’s father Vincent Ferrer.

The first football camp was held in 2007 by a group of coaches from the Barcelona-based Club de Futbol Santvicenti. “Players from the club are coming for the past six years. They bring balls, nets, t-shirts, shorts, football boots, socks and training cones for practice,” says the ADFA secretary, Venugopal.

This year, a 13-member team, including Miquel Angel, the mayor of Santvincente town, coached and interacted with 120 boys and girls from Anantapur and Rayalaseema region for 10 days from May 1 to 10. “The Spaniards share their knowledge wholeheartedly and they give more emphasis to offence, accurate passing and astute tackling. Many trainees do not know where Spain is but they eagerly wait for their (Spaniards) arrival every year,” says Venugopal.

The regular visits by friends from Spain has paid off as Anantapur girls team won three State-level football tournaments and 10 players, from the under-19 and under-17 segments, were selected for the state team. In the early 1990s, RDT had decided to make a foray into sports to keep the district youth on a progressive path and thus spruced up the cricket stadium, which has hosted several BCCI tournaments, including Ranji Trophy matches, and National Cricket Academy’s zonal camps since 2004.

Later, Fundacion Vincent Ferrer, the Spanish arm of RDT, tied up with three NGOs from Spain — Fundacion FC Barcelona, Stick Amb India and Fundacion Rafa Nadal — to set up football, hockey and tennis academies respectively. “Former world No. 1 Rafael Nadal made a flying visit in 2010 to inaugurate his academy,” recollects Venugopal.

“Our motto is to spot the raw talent and then harness them. We, through our committed work, won many hearts in Spain and it was a moment of pride when FC Barcelona decided to open its academy in Anantapur, the first one in Asia,” says Moncho.