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Chasing dreams with crutches; Malappuram youth to represent India in Amputee Football

Mohammed Shafeeque Panakkadan, a disabled young man from Kerala’s Malappuram, is chasing his dream to be an international footballer.

The 33 year old, who lost his right leg above the knee in an accident when he was a teenager, will now represent India for the first time in the West Asian Amputee Football Championship, which will be held in Kish Island, Iran, on 5 March.

Shafeeque, who is also a state swimming champion, missed an opportunity to compete in a football championship in Malaysia last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a dream come true moment for him who hails from South India’s football heartland.

“ I want to be an extraordinary role model to my brothers beyond their limitations, now I feel proud to be a differently-abled person with my achievements, and I won’t stop the chase,” Shafeeque told Footy Times, a football news website.

Shafeeque with Indian football legend IM Vijayan. Photo shared by Shafeeque

Shafeeque was hit by a truck in 2004 when he was a school going boy. After the accident, his leg had to be cut off, and he was sidelined for quite some time. However, he faced the situation with strong character, and now he thinks the incident was a blessing in disguise for his achievements later.

“I regained my football skills and have been training well for the past four years as part of Para Amputee football community. I had got an opportunity to represent India last year but failed due to the pandemic,” he said.

Shafeeque has been applauded for several ambitious projects in the past as well. Last year he completed a nine-mile walkathon through Wayanad Ghat road to show solidarity with the protesting farmers in India’s capital Delhi. He covered the entire hairpin in a single stretch with the help of his crutches. After the solidarity walkathon, he visited Delhi to join farmers in the protest.

Shafeeque is now at the Indian camp, where he will play as a defender alongside five other Kerala players, including captain Vyshakh.

Meanwhile, the team has complained they struggle to find sponsorship to compete in the international arenas due to the lack of a government support system.

“This competition is a qualifying round for the World Cup in Turkey. Players are forced to find their own sponsors to fund their trips abroad. Four players are yet to find a sponsor and their dream of playing is up in the air,” the coach and the captain of the Indian team told a local channel.

Shafeeque found his travel expense via Abdul Hamid of the Indian Union Muslim League, the Member of Kerala Legislative Assembly.

The player is determined to bring joy and smiles to his friends and family once again. If the team succeeds, they will go on to the Amputee Football World Cup, slated to be held in Turkey in October, 2022.

This story is originally published in Footy Times.

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