Jeakson Singh heads into Indian history

Jeakson Singh isn't fond of how his name is spelled. In football jerseys the midfielder of the Indian Under-17 team has worn before, he has it spelled Jackson. According to family lore, apparently that's what father Deben had wanted to spell it too but got it wrong. Jeakson though is the spelling that trended on Indian twitter on the night of October 9. It is the name that will go down in Indian sporting history.

In the 82nd minute of India's World Cup game against Colombia, Jeakson leaped off the turf and into Indian sporting history. Rearing his six-foot two-inch frame as high as it could get off the pitch at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, he rose over the Colombian defence to meet team-mate Sanjiv Stalin's corner kick, and sent the ball rocketing into the net for India's first ever goal at a FIFA World Cup.

The moment when it happened was scarcely believable. Spectators, tens of thousands strong, including Jeakson's father, launched themselves off their seats. India's coach Louis Matos threw his arms out in the air. Jeakson was mobbed by his team-mates led by captain Amarjit Singh, the neighbor with whom he had first kicked around a ball in the village of Haokhao near Imphal a decade ago. The team congealed into a huddle if only for a second or two. Jeakson looked skyward and then jogged back to this place in the Indian half.

Perhaps it was destiny. For this was a goal that wouldn't have been out of place in a movie script.

It wouldn't even have been believable just a few months ago, for Jeakson wasn't even supposed to be in the Indian team. He had been included two-and-a-half years back in the training camp for the Under-15 squad. He had been cut after a few weeks. He was unusually tall and there were doubts about his real age. He was five-foot nine then - already unusually tall for a Manipuri teen - and he was growing taller still. His body was still adjusting to the beginning of his teenage growth spurt . The one that would eventually see him break free from the shackles of his Colombia markers. "Too slow," was the assessment.

"It can break the will of any youngster. To be told you aren't good enough," Sanjay Singh, the chief coach of the Chandigarh Football Academy where the youngster had trained, said. Yet Jeakson had believed. He continued to believe when he left CFA and joined Minerva FC in 2016. "He always believed. Mera time bhi ayega (My time will come) sir," Bitan Singh, coach at Minerva, recalls him saying. It was an almost reckless belief that he was meant for bigger things.

Jeakson was after all the consummate underdog. This was a youngster who only joined the CFA in 2011 because it offered, as his brother Jonychand says, "an education and regular meals." His family still doesn't have a regular paycheck after his father suffered a brainstroke and lost his job. His was a family who skipped meals and sold vegetables in order to allow his brother to train in Chandigarh. Brother Jonychand watched the match from Gangtok where he is looking to cement his a place in a second division club.

Jeakson's belief would be justified when the Minerva U-16 side beat the Indian national team early this year. Jeakson was one of the stars of the match and was drafted into the U-17 squad. He has been indispensable ever since. His role has been that of a holding midfielder, meant to soak up pressure against opposition who are secure in the confidence of their own superiority in skills, physicality and playing heritage against an Indian team only playing the World Cup by virtue of being hosts.

It is a critical part to play and he had done it well. His was not the only role to play. India had already done well before his strike. In the goal, keeper Dheeraj Singh had stood like a rock. There had been chances on the Colombian goal too - a strike ruled offside and a shot that hit the post.

The cruelty of sport though was that India's moment of glory would be fleeting. In the most brutal of reality checks, Colombia, countered almost immediately. Gustavo Carvajal found Juan Penaloza free in the box to slide home the finish to score the decisive second goal for Colombia. Penaloza had already scored in the 49th minute and his second sealed the match 2-1 for his side.

India had been caught off guard on 'cloud nine' as Jeakson put it. Coach Matos admitted as much. "We got caught in the euphoria and we lost a little concentration. The first minute after the goal was like a dream and it was a pity that we had to concede," he said.

It was the second time in as many games that India had conceded due to a lack of concentration. In their opening game against the USA, a counter was made immediately after Anwar Ali's strike against the crossbar. That was a particularly cruel passage of play. Against Colombia though, it hardly even mattered. There will be time to reflect on what could have been.

Monday night was about a moment of history created by Jeakson or Jackson. Call him whatever he wants.