Nurul Islam was one of those nondescript yet selfless individuals who devoted their lives to promoting sports in the country. Popularly known as Khoka Da, he was the man to turn to at Thakurgaon playground to play football. He was not a licensed coach, but he kept on training young enthusiasts for 42 years in that remote northern district of the country until he breathed his last on Sunday night at the age of 70.
A founder member of Uttaran Krira Chakra, a popular club of the district which was established in 1976, Islam was an epitome of so many selfless coaches and organisers who are practically married to football. A confirmed bachelor, Islam was an employee of the mechanical department of Thakurgaon Sugar Mills when he developed his passion for football. He arranged two training camps, the morning session was before he set off for work and the afternoon session was after he was done. He kept on training the boys even after his retirement and his door was always ajar for everyone. In addition, he never asked for a penny form those youthful enthusiasts.
He was confined to his home for the last two months due to old age complications and the news of his demise understandably cast a pall of gloom on the sports fraternity of the district. A long and silent procession of mourners outside his Public Club Road residence yesterday only demonstrated a bit of the treasure-trove of love he earned for his selfless endeavours.
Arafat Rony, a defender who played for Mohammedan Sporting Club, is one of the few names who have come all the way from Khoka Da's nursery to the top fight while Yasin Ali and Robi played in the U-16 and U-17 teams. But all of them, while reflecting on their mentor, recalled his heart's wish: “You boys will play and build your carrier in right way, a way to enhance a healthy nation, this is my satisfaction.
“His contribution to the district's football is indescribable. He spent his whole life with the boys in the playground. He was the main source of producing players in the district,” said District Sports Association general secretary Masudur Rahman Babu.
“I have been to Thakurgaon on a number of occasions to conduct age-level training and every time I saw him, it gave me the feeling of a football-mad trainer ready to do whatever it takes for the welfare of his students. He was a rare breed and it is sad that he is no more,” said Mahabub Hossain Polo, a Bangladesh Football Federation coach.
The beloved Khoka Da was buried at Munshipara graveyard after Zuhr prayers following his namaj-e-janaza at the Thakurgaon Government Boys High School's Boro Math.
But he will live on as an inspiration and hopefully the Thakurgaon playground, which now wears a deserted look, will find another Khoka Da sooner rather than later.