A volley generated from a defensive manoeuvre paved way for the first goal of the match between Ritshangdung and Chiya Primary School in Kanglung on September 1.

Dawa Zangmo of Ritshangdung PS made the run as she saw an opening. No sooner was she inside the box the volley hit her leg. After almost an hour of stumbling and falling, the deadlock was finally broken.

“I didn’t know I had scored the goal. The ball somehow hit my leg and it went in,” said the 13-year-old. “I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time.”

Dawa’s teammate Sonam Yangki doubled their lead 10 minutes later as she dribbled past two of Chiya PS’s defenders to slip the ball under the fully stretched goalie.

Dawa Zangmo once again rose to the occasion to score her second and seal the deal for Ritshangdung PS.

The two-day cluster football competition saw seven primary schools from Kanglung gewog compete against each other. The skills and talents were basic but the enthusiasm, palpable.

For a good part of the 90 minutes, the game saw more of dodging the ball than hitting it. Misplaced positions frequently led to players from the same team dribbling against each other.  Frustrated coaches and teachers were shouting from afar.

Most students, especially the girls were taking part for the first time in the tournament. Eleven-year-old Sonam Yangki who had just begun playing football a week ago had found her new interest.

She said that without a proper football ground at her school, the team practised at the volleyball court. “It was really difficult running on a bigger ground but I always wanted to experience it once,” said Sonam Yangki.

The class V student who scored in her debut appearance said that she aspires to play for the national team. “I do not know much about football and its rules but I love this game. I want to learn more about football and become better than what I’m today.”

Games coordinator of Kanglung Primary School, Tashi Dorji, said that the cluster tournament among primary schools was revived last year to identify and recognise talent and skills from a young age.

He said that the competition, which was popular among students, was discontinued following lack of budget from the dzongkhag. “Most of the time such competitions are held among the middle and higher secondary schools,” said Tashi Dorji. “However, if we are to produce potential athletes in future, we have to focus on the grassroots. Primary schools would be an ideal place to groom athletes by conducting similar competitions.”

Tashi Dorji said that since the reintroduction of the programme last year, many talents were recognised. A total of three primary students were selected for training at the football academy in Gelephu of which one of the girls play for the under-14 national team.

“These kids have talents. But without proper facilities and guidance, they miss out on the many opportunities,” he said. “Compared to last year, we have noticed huge improvements in most students this year.”

A game that began as a hobby at one time has become a career for many today. The success stories of some of these few sportsmen have encouraged many young aficionados to pursue sports as a career.

Phuntsho Tshering of Kanglung PS also aspires to play for the national team. The 12-year-old said that he wants to join the football academy in Thimphu. “I wish to play like Chencho Gyeltshen and Tsagay (Tshering Dorji). They are my inspiration,” he said. “I wish to train with them and under the national coach in Thimphu one day.”

Younten Tshedup |  Kanglung