An emotional Gurpreet Singh Sandhu went back to the days of his playing career when he was still a budding goalkeeper while heading towards the iconic Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Stadium in Kolkata for the first training session ahead of the International ‘Derby’ against Bangladesh in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Joint Qualifier, which is scheduled for tomorrow (Tuesday, October 15, 2019).
Meanwhile, he shared an interesting anecdote while the car took the right turn leaving Nicco Park behind.
“Hey! Nicco Park. My first day with East Bengal was here that day,” a jubilant Gurpreet pointed to the main entrance of the amusement park in Salt Lake. “Coach (Philippe De Ridder) had taken all of us here for a team-bonding session and incidentally, it was my first day with the club.
The lanky Blue Tigers’ custodian went on to express his amazement at the passion that the fans in the City of Joy have for the beautiful game.
“The passion of Kolkata is so contagious. The reception at the airport (Kolkata) was just magnificent; I don’t have words to thank them enough for turning up in numbers to welcome us,” said Gurpreet.
“Indian Football is because of you and it’s important for all of us. At the end of the day, we play for you,” the Arjuna award-winning goalkeeper voiced while the car whizzed past the Biswa Bangla gate in Kolkata.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s career kicked off in Kolkata when he signed with East Bengal in 2010 before he was loaned out to the AIFF developmental side Pailan Arrows. One season later, he came back to the Red & Golds as their primary custodian.
“I stayed in Salt Lake in the first year and later, moved to New Town. This area was actually ‘new’ back then. I used to stay here and these places are getting me back to those days. We used to hang around here,” Sandhu continued as he pointed to a bylane where a Durga Puja pandal was yet to be dismantled.
“Honestly, I didn’t think much when I started playing for East Bengal in 2010. It’s been incredible so far and seems it’s still a dream (for me). I just want to live one day at a time and play one game at a time. I try to grasp as much as I can while I play for the National team as well as my club,” Sandhu admitted.
Speaking about the Blue Tigers’ upcoming game against Bangladesh in the World Cup Qualifier, the custodian said that it is important to play to one’s strengths.
“You can’t predict what’s going to happen on the matchday. It’s important to go out and make sure you play to your strength. Later, we can only see what happens. Once you do the right thing and commit fewer mistakes, the scope of getting a good result is more,” he said.
The agile keeper, who started his career eight years back, wouldn’t have foreseen this day when a 27-year-old fully-grown professional would have been embraced by the ‘City of Joy’ amidst the euphoria.
This emotional reunion, the before madness around the city, a stadium that has been sold out 72 hours before kick-off are just a few of the things that have captured his imagination.
He dreamed of the day when he would come back again, perhaps this time, as a grey-haired, aged version of himself, standing in front of the iconic statue of Swami Vivekananda at the entrance of the VYBK Stadium with a bigger laurel, brighter medal and murmur, “Hey! My first match for India in Kolkata was here that day.”