The day my life changed - I traded in my PE classes to bend it like Beckham in India

23rd July 2010 at 01:00
Pupils' footballing fantasies fuelled one teacher's own sporting dream and led him half way around the world

Football has been a constant in my life. There has never been a time when I haven't played and I'm a Spurs devotee. Although I didn't go for club trials as a youngster, I did win a soccer scholarship to the US before embarking on a degree in sports science and biology at the University of Essex. I harboured dreams of playing professionally but accepted that it probably wouldn't happen.

I joined Alexandra Park School in north London in 2003 through the Graduate Teacher Programme. In addition to the sciences, I taught PE and coached one of the school teams. I was teaching kids who talked non-stop about becoming footballers, while holding on to the same aspiration myself. Beyond work, football continued to be my outlet. I played five-a-side and futsal - indoor soccer - in the national league.

My family comes from Kerala in southern India, so I would often spend my holidays there. It's a hotbed of football fanaticism. People love the English Premier League and Indian football is on the up. The country's first national league, the I-League, was established in 2007 and has a big following. The same goes for Goa and the north-east regions - Kolkata derbies regularly attract 60,000 fans.

I took part in tournaments during my holidays and, after talking to people involved in the I-League, realised that I could give it a shot.

My final decision was triggered by an amalgam of factors. First, a fortuitous rule change: whereas clubs used to have a three foreign-player rule, they could also now sign one person of Indian origin, so my chances of being selected were increased. Second, local side Viva Kerala were promoted to the first division after the 200809 season - so there was a buoyant club I could target. On a more personal level, I was 28, so there was an element of now or never.

To try to lose weight, I went on a fitness drive in January 2009 and five months later, during half-term, flew over to meet Viva's owner. It was less rigorous than a Premier League trial. I didn't have a medical, he just watched me play and, against the odds, signed me. I was elated but it also felt unreal. It wasn't until a Keralan newspaper ran a story on me that I truly believed it was happening. I had to return home to finish the term and I will never forget telling my form. They were dumbfounded.

Conversely, when I tell people in India I'm a science teacher, they don't believe it either. Footballers are revered here but their lifestyles aren't Wayne Rooney-esque. Most of my teammates are from poor families, live in grotty accommodation and send their small salaries home.

It's difficult to compare Viva to a British club in size-terms. Yes, we have 20,000 fans and represent the whole of south India, but there are more organised amateur UK teams. There are no entourages and swanky facilities for us - we only have four staff.

My first league match was against Churchill Brothers, a Goan team, last October. We lost 2-0 but I played out of my skin in midfield. That sums up my season. There have been ups, downs and challenges aplenty, but I have been in the starting line-up in all but one match and I have had an unforgettable year. I spend countless hours travelling and sitting in hotels, but compared with working 10 hours a day as a teacher, life is pretty easy.

I miss teaching but I'm squeezing every last drop out of this experience. It's been awesome and the memories will stay with me when I return to teaching and beyond.

Patrick Sisupalan was talking to Antonia Kanczula. Follow Patrick on his blog and Viva Kerala on Do you have an experience to share? Email

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