Saju Mathew has a story that is highly inspirational, to say the least! Mathew came here to the UK (United Kingdom) on his student visa back in the year 2010. Back then, as a young student, he certainly never thought that he would someday represent England at a globally recognized sporting event just 9 years down the line. However, destiny has always played a major part in the life of Saju Mathew, currently a much-feted member of the English standard-style kabaddi team. He has gone on record to state that his love for kabaddi helped him achieve and accomplish this dream above all else.
Professionally qualified as a nurse, Saju Mathew has become a beacon of inspiration to fellow professionals in the nursing community worldwide, particularly in India. He has been part of the England kabaddi team ever since the year 2018. Even though kabaddi does not enjoy as much popularity in England as cricket or football, for instance, the country is steadily beefing up its capabilities in the sport. It is steadily growing its strength across Europe and is hoping to scale up its playing standards over the next few years.
Key snippets along Saju Mathew’s journey
Saju Mathew has been nurtured and recognized by his national coach, Ashok Das, who has been instrumental in shaping his career. Das is the one who first spotted his skills in the sport and chose him for representing the national team eventually. Das has been working for several years to promote and popularize kabaddi as a major sport in England. He has also been working tireless for enhancing the capabilities of the national kabaddi team. Currently, kabaddi in England has several young talents getting involved across universities while people from various walks of life and ethnicities are also coming forward. Saju Mathew is the sole Malayali in the England kabaddi team although there are several British Indians playing for the national team at present.
Mathew has recounted how he managed to get in touch with Ashok Das in 2012-13 post watching his life story on BBC. Saju remained in touch with Das but did not get to meet him since Das lived in Birmingham and he was residing in Wiltshire. Since he had just commenced working, he did not own a car back then for traveling to the training location. However, Saju Mathew remained patient without giving up. By the year 2017, he obtained permanent residency in England along with citizenship and financial backing for pursuing his kabaddi career professionally as well. He commenced practicing at the academy run by Das right from 2017-18 onwards. However, he could only visit once or possibly a couple of times every month.
Hence, when Mathew got a chance to relocate nearer to the facility, he selected Worcester which is not that far from Birmingham. Saju Mathew was a major part of the England team that took part in the 2019 European Kabaddi Championships held in Scotland. Yet, the team could not practice as much in 2020 owing to the outbreak of the coronavirus worldwide. According to him, since Kabaddi is primarily a contact based sport, it is tough to regularly practice while adhering to all social distancing norms. Yet, there are plans afoot for starting tournaments in the year 2021. He expressed his hope of the pandemic dissipating soon since the team is eager to start their practice once again.
A life well lived with much to hope for
Saju Mathew who is now 34 years old, believes that he is more of an accidental kabaddi player. He has talked of how the best playing years for any sportsperson are between 18 and 30 years of age. However, he has not been a regular Kabaddi player in this time and only got selected in the England Kabaddi team post 30. He grew up in Alappuzha which is home to numerous leading Kabaddi clubs in India. Saju always had a strong liking for the sport although his childhood saw him more interested in badminton and also cricket. He started playing Kabaddi regularly only at the age of 16 when his school team was short of a player.
He has stated how he did not even know all the Kabaddi rules fully when he played his very first game. He fell in love with Kabaddi thereafter although the team lost that match. Destiny had other plans however, hindering him from continuing his Kabaddi career since he had to shift to Bangalore for his nursing studies and later on to Ranchi for his job. While his friends joined professional clubs for playing Kabaddi, Saju only took part in their practice sessions whenever he visited his home during the holidays.
Later on, he founded a Kabaddi club with his friends but once again, he had to shift to the United Kingdom (UK) for doing his health and social care course. Back then, Saju thought that his connection with Kabaddi was numbered although the England team happened and there was no looking back thereafter although Saju misses playing with his childhood friends back home. He talked of how they made memories to be cherished while founding their club, particularly the fun aspect of playing together in a group of friends and finding sponsors for the Kabaddi club. He also tries to help the club in his capacity at the moment while also working hard at his day job at Worcestershire Royal Hospital as a file auditor. He resides in UK with his wife and two daughters. For Saju Mathew, there are more accolades waiting in the wings although his life till now has been truly well lived. He continues to be a major inspiration for nursing professionals, Kabaddi players and students back home in India and also in the UK.