On 26 December 2004, the Cuddalore district in Tamil Nadu was devastated by a massive tsunami that struck the southern coast of India. Many lives were lost and umpteen families displaced. Amongst the survivors were a group of orphaned girls who were taken in by a government home for the poor. They could not stay there indefinitely though and this is where the physical education teacher at a local government school stepped in to help.
Subramanian Mariappan coached the boys team at the school. One day a group of girls who used to watch his training sessions from a distance asked if they could play as well and thus began his association with women’s football. He soon realised that most of his wards were either orphans or from extremely poor families and had been impacted hard by the tsunami.
Incredibly, he decided to take them in and support their livelihoods in addition to coaching them. For years, he spent all his salary on them and today, he still continues to care for them, all on a pension of 35,000 rupees.
The 33 children whom he took in over the years have repaid his faith in them. They have gone on to achieve success at every competitive level. Some of them play for the Indira Gandhi Academy for Sports and Education team who are four time national university champions. Twenty two of them have represented the state at age group and senior level competitions. Eleven of them have represented India at various levels.
Their focus on education to go with the football has also brought rewards elsewhere. They are all graduates. Some of them have gone on to become post-graduates with K. Sumithra becoming an Indian U-16 international as well as a Ph.D candidate. A few of them have found jobs with the Tamil Nadu Police which allow them to continue playing football.
V. Vinita, who helped Tamil Nadu win a maiden senior national title this year, has gone on record stating that she might have become a daily wage worker if Mariappan had not taken her and her friends in. On his part, he has always stated that he cared for the girls because football was his world and he wanted the same for them.
For those who ask how much one person can do in a football ecosystem such as ours, one only needs to point them towards Subramanian Mariappan and the Cuddalore miracle.