The India No. 1 described his experiences as a youngster before joining one of the most renowned clubs in Indian football – East Bengal.
Ever since making his debut in 2015 against Iran, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has been the undisputed heir of the No. 1 jersey. His performances against China in 2018 and Asian champions Qatar will go down as two of the most memorable in Indian football.
On Khel Now’s Beyond The Scores podcast with Ashish Negi, he described his journey to becoming a professional footballer. Reminiscing about his younger days, the Bengaluru FC custodian revealed that he initially began playing cricket because of his father. “My father loves cricket and he wanted to be a cricketer as well. He was a very good player, but unfortunately couldn’t pursue his dream because his parents did not support him and (therefore) he made sure I did not get the same kind of reply.”
Looking at his interest in sports, his father took him to a cricket academy at the PCA Stadium in Mohali. However, Sandhu’s happiness was short-lived, as he was just made to run around the cricket field for the first few days. “You are just telling me to run. I just thought ‘When are these guys going to give me batting and bowling?’ and soon after that he gave up on cricket.”
Following a short stint with cricket, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu also tried his luck at volleyball. He then revealed how his journey in football began after winning a running race at school. “Our PE coach at school, Surinder Singh, was also an upcoming football coach. He asked me to bring my dairy and wrote that there’s a football academy that has been started and if you wish to admit him bring him there and my parents also agreed to it.”
The India international’s alma mater, St. Stephen’s Academy in Chandigarh, is one of the renowned academies in Punjab. The goalkeeper believes the academy has played a major role in creating his career. “Our principal in that school was passionate about football and he originally hailed from England.
So, he started the academy and when I joined, there were very good players. We had academy legend Aita Ram who played for the U-14 national team, which itself is a big thing and the football culture was also amazing. We had kids who used to come from Northeast and used to stay in hostel and other parts of India. They have done extremely good work and I can’t repay what St. Stephen’s has done for me,” he quipped.
Speaking of his dreams as a young teenager, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu revealed that he never thought he would reach the level he is currently at. “Initially I didn’t think of making it big. All I wanted to do was to represent Chandigarh and if I do well I’ll get a chance to play state level and after that whatever happens, happens.”
“So, during National School Games at Sonipat, I got a chance to play because I was the only goalkeeper in my age-group. Then I represented Chandigarh in Haldwani and we won the North Zone via penalty shootout and and I got to save one penalty,” he further added.
In the year 2006, Sandhu and his Chandigarh team went on on to play the national tournament in Chennai. Unfortunately, for young Gurpreet, the tournament was not that great, as he conceded a lot of goals against the likes of Manipur and Mizoram. But, fortunately for him, former India U-19 head coach Colin Toal spotted him and recommended his name to Tanumoy Basu, who was then the goalkeeping coach of the U-19 national team. “The U-16 Nationals did not go well for me, as I kept conceding 6-7-8 goals, but fortunately, Colin sir was there and recommended my name to Tanumoy sir and I was called up for the national team camp. Then I was shortlisted in the squad of 28 and made it to AIFF Elite Academy in Goa.”
The youngster then went on to represent the U-16, U-17 and U-19 teams. After his exploits for age-group sides, he had various offers from I-League sides. “I had offers from Salgaocar, Sporting (Clube de Goa) and East Bengal and in the year 2009, in December I signed for East Bengal,” he concluded.