Football is more than a sport for Bunty Dhiman. Now 32 years old, Bunty recalls his introduction to the sport. “I’ve been playing since I was in the first or second standard. I don’t know what motivated me to start but instead of studies I would always prefer sports. I started playing seriously when I enrolled into Thakur College. Before that I had played volleyball at the district level. My coach Krishna Shelar asked me to play as goalkeeper as my height was 5’10” and I was a volleyball player with good reach,” he recalls.
While his father was never against his playing football, he would insist his son return from college in the afternoon to travel to their factory. Bunty divided his time amongst various tasks but football remained his primary passion. “None of my family members were into sports. Both my father and brother were businessmen,” Bunty says.
A dream come true
His main pillar of support was his mother in those days. He remembers the night that helped his dreams become a reality. After waiting for three years, he had finally got a call from his coach ahead of a university tournament. But there was a big problem because when his coach called him he was nursing a hairline fracture in his left wrist. “I didn’t tell him that I had a plaster on my hand. I said that I’d come,” Bunty reminisces.
His mother asked him how he would manage that and he answered that he’d cut the plaster and go. So the two of them sat together at midnight, cutting off the plaster. Despite her misgivings, his mother understood the strength of his desire to play. A year later in 2002, Bunty got a call from Mahindra United for their U-19 team and began playing in the NFL or the National Football League as the third-choice goalkeeper.
Listing down the teams that he had represented or played against thereafter is only half the story. The truth is that all through this period, Bunty was plagued with a recurring wrist injury, the same one that had bothered him in his university days. Forced to take time off from the sport, he underwent surgery, with a screw inserted into the damaged wrist. Unable to play for a year and a half, he went back to the game only to repeatedly take breaks in 2010 and 2012 due to the old injury acting up.
“When that year and a half took me out of the game, I thought of concentrating on my job and family but deep inside I wanted to go out and play. So I would go just for practice. Eventually, I decided to play again and went for trails,” says Bunty, who was greeted warmly by his teammates in Mumbai Customs FC upon his return to the game.
New source of motivation
“I got married in 2012 and three months after our wedding, I got injured. It scared my wife that I wasn’t able to move my wrist.” The screw, inserted into his wrist in 2006, had lost its shape and needed to be replaced. Once more, his playing days were halted. He went back to managing his own business but that would change with the birth of his son.
“My son was born on April 2015 and I started playing for him then. Because if he sees me play, he will be motivated to play too. If I were to simply tell him I used to play when he grows up it won’t be the same thing. It’s better if I show him. Once, I brought him to a game. He was only one and a half years old but he was shouting like crazy because he saw me playing on the ground.”
Word of advice
Football has helped Bunty control his weight and he recommends it to non-sportspeople as a way to stay fit. However, his strongest piece of advice is for the next generation of footballers. He talks about the changes he has seen and the future that awaits youngsters.
“Younger players will have to be focused. There are many big tournaments coming up and other distractions. I’ve seen many good players fail so I now counsel them to stay focused. A young player should always have a goal, should first look to make the under 19 national team. If a player makes it to that level, it won’t be difficult for him to go up from there,” Bunty concludes.