History was created on the 18th of August this year when Gurpreet Singh Sandhu became the first Indian footballer to play a professional senior game for a top division football club in Europe. His journey from one continent to another and aspirations for playing in renowned leagues serve up ample motivation for a nation of 1.2 billion.
"That's the only way we are going to be a good national football team. Players need to step out and see how it is outside," reckons Gurpreet.
How It All Began
Having started learning the ropes at the tender of age of 8, at Punjab's St. Stephens Academy in 2000, he honed his footballing skills for a better part of the decade before he fulfilled his dream of playing in the I-League. With his education involving representing the Punjab U16s, it was little surprise where his career was headed as he started his professional stint after signing up with East Bengal. And this was shortly after he left the academy in 2009!
Before the end of the 2009-10 season, he made 5 appearances for the Red and Gold Brigade. He was, however, unable to break through into the first team, and was loaned out to Pailan Arrows for the 2010-11 season to gain some valuable experience.
But the road to success isn't laid with entitlements. He wasn't selected to play for a single game for the Arrows and when he returned to East Bengal the following season, he was nominated as the second choice keeper. Gurpreet remained resilient regardless. He kept his head down and worked hard, with his efforts paying off after impressive performances in the Federation Cup, which rewarded him with the mantle of being the number one between the sticks for the Red and Gold outfit.
His persistent performances led him to delivering in one of the games that catapulted his career to the next step. Playing in the Kolkata Derby against Mohun Bagan in front of 110,000 fans, the 6 foot 5 inch keeper was scouted by John Burridge, a seasoned English goalkeeper who was very impressed with his skills. A 19 year old playing in front of such a big crowd, unfazed, who could kick the ball from box-to-box and throw it like a spear definitely had the skill and mentality to make it big in Europe, observed Burridge.
Through Burridge, Gurpreet was given the chance to have a trial at Wigan, but ended up joining Stabaek Football Club in Norway. But he had done it. He not only achieved his dream, but has given an entire nation hope that the India just starting to unleash its talent upon the rest of the world.
As Subrata Pal summed it up: "He is an inspiration for so many budding footballers."