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In Srirampuram, 3 generations of brothers breathe football

Hailing from a Bengaluru locality are Vignesh (Mumbai City FC), his brother Dhanush (FC Bengaluru United), their uncle former India captain Shangmugam Venkatesh, and his brother Dakshinamurthy. This is their tale.

In Srirampuram, 3 generations of brothers breathe football

Dakshinamurthy (centre) with Dhanush (left) and Vignesh (right). (Source: Dhanush Dakshinamurthy)


Rajdeep Saha

Published: 16 Jun 2023 6:21 AM GMT

We've often heard about Kolkata, Goa and Kerala being the usual suspects in discussions about footballing hubs in India. Let us raise you Srirampuram, the Bangalore locality with little more than 18,000 people, according to the 2011 Census.

A perfect blend of modernity and the old times, the urban area is freckled with small houses and football grounds. Every Sunday, a local football tournament is sure to be held, attracting spectators from all ages and all walks of life.

Being a football-fanatic pocket of the city meant that unearthed gems abounded, who often came from underprivileged backgrounds, not having means to maneuver their way into Indian football.

Brothers Vignesh and Dhanush Dakshinamurthy, on the other hand, had a bit of added help; they had inspiration.

This is a tale of a family where football has been the connecting thread for three generations.

"It's very simple. We lived in a footballing atmosphere, we didn't need any academy. Just like I used to go to the games with my brother to watch him play, it's the same with Vignesh and Dhanush. It's in the genetics, in the blood," former India international Shanmugam Venkatesh, who belongs to this family, told The Bridge.

Vigu and Dhanu

Having a sibling is never easy, especially when you're in the same field. Comparisons are part-and-parcel with a splash of always trying to one-up the other. However, the only competitiveness Vignesh and Dhanush engaged in was on their dusty old PlayStation 2 console.

"We have a PS2 in our home where he used to make a character called Dhanu and I would make one called Vigu. I would sign the player to Chelsea while he would to Barcelona, and we used to play," Vignesh told The Bridge, recalling their childhood days.

More than brothers, the duo tag their relationship as that of best friends, which was apparent from the occasional jeers during the virtual interview revealing years of inside jokes and memories.

While they almost never compete against each other, the brothers do feel the need to look up at the veritable trophy cabinet their father Dakshinamurthy created during his playing days.

"If you see our house, we've a lot of trophies. In those days, they were a lot more valuable and difficult to get. We feel so low when we start comparing our trophies to our dad's. Even if it's a local tournament trophy, there'll be something big behind it that inspires us," Vignesh said.

It is Dakshinamurthy, their father, who was the primary source of inspiration, and also introduction to the sport for the brothers. From going to the BDFA Super Division League matches, to being their father's personal kit men, the two had experienced it all even before their playing days.

"When we were kids, we used to see him pack his football kit and go to the matches. He used to tell us to bring him this shoe, that ball. We used to pack his kit and we enjoyed that. We started copying whatever he did," Dhanush told The Bridge. "And the next day, we would copy these things in Srirampuram when we used to play in the mud grounds," he added.

A young Dhanush putting the ball in the top corner at the Srirampuram mud grounds (Source: Dhanush Dakshinamurthy)

"If a player wore stockings till the knee today, tomorrow even we would do that," Vignesh laughed.

While their father takes most of the cake when it comes to the inspiration, the brothers also credit the atmosphere in Srirampuram, where banners of locals would be put up when they made it to the state team.

Dhanush, currently a right-back for FC Bengaluru United, recently clinched the Stafford Cup after beating Chennaiyin FC in the finals of the 2023 edition. Interestingly, the last time the tournament was held in 1993, it was his father, Dakshinamurthy's team ITI (Indian Telephone Industries) which had won it.

Elder brother Vignesh plies his trade with Indian Super League outfit Mumbai City FC, the 2022-23 League Shield Winners.

Both the brothers are in full swing in their respective professional careers, but they have never played together in the same team.

Once, when they used to play for the Ozone Academy, the two brothers were pitched against each other - Vignesh on the left midfield (U-18) against Dhanush as the right-back (U-15). As their mother watched on from the stands, it seemed an individual battle, fueled by personal vendetta, played out between the brothers.

After the match, an egg-puff-munching Dhanush asked Vignesh, "Saapudriya da (Want to eat?)?" Things cooled down after that.

Asked if they'd ever want to play on the same side for a change, they said they'd be a force to reckon with, like Liverpool's Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

An honest uncle Venky

While Vignesh and Dhanush regret not having the chance to watch their father in his prime, they had their uncle Shanmugam Venkatesh to look up to, who's lovingly known as 'Venky sir' between the brothers. If their father's career was mostly hearsay, Venkatesh was almost like a God. They remember watching him lift the Federation Cup with Mahindra United in 2005 on the Zee Sports channel.

Dakshinamurthy didn't only inspire his sons, but also helped shape his brother Venkatesh's career as well. Venkatesh, the former India national team and East Bengal assistant coach, recalled how playing alongside his elder brother in ADE (Aeronautical Development Establishment), also under his captaincy in the Santosh Trophy, inspired him.

There was another brother in the mix, Vasudevan, who was a goalie and played for the India U-19s, alongside the likes of Mahesh Gawli and Deepak Mondal. Venkatesh remembered how once Dakshinamurthy and himself, playing for ADE, had scored a combined five goals against Vasudevan of CIL (Controllerate of Inspection Electronics). "He was so angry. We used to eat dinner together, but after that game he stopped sitting with us," Venkatesh told The Bridge.

Shanmugam Venkatesh (left) during his playing days (Source: Indian Football Blog)

It never particularly dawned on him that he belonged to such a footballing family, but this did get him the tag of being 'over-confident' when he announced in front of senior players how he'd walk into the Mohun Bagan and East Bengal teams, and one day play for them. This'd even prompted a slap from Dakshinamurthy, but such was the nonchalant belief Srirampuram had given him.

When it comes to his nephews, the former India captain didn't hold back.

"When I saw Vignesh at Ozone (academy) and when Dhanush used to visit my house and play on my terrace, I could see their talent, their football instinct. I feel Dhanush is a better player than Vignesh, more sensible. Vignesh is a softie, like my brother, but Dhanush is more aggressive. My expectation was that Dhanush would reach a professional level, but sometimes players don't reach the level at the correct time, and choosing the club is also important," an honest Venkatesh analysed.

"Both got the opportunity, it's how you take that. I still feel Dhanush has the better football sense, but Vignesh has worked really hard to reach this level."

"This is nothing, this is the beginning. Long way to go. It's their job. I'm always happy, behind the screen, but don't want to disturb them. I don't want to put any pressure on them, they know that I'm watching from somewhere," he concluded.

Dakshinamurthy, the connecting thread

The football doesn't stop at Dakshinamurthy. If he was behind Vignesh, Dhanush, and Venkatesh's careers, who was behind his? It was his father Shanmugam who, in his time, played for clubs like NTC (National Textile Corporation) and Bangalore Blues FC in the 1970s.

One could assume that Dakshinamurthy would be urging his sons to play football, but in fact he was quite against them pursuing the sport.

"My father suffered in his office because of not studying. He didn't want the same to happen to us. Even now he tells us to go back and finish our studies," Vignesh said. A lot of players from their locality are now delivery persons due to lack of jobs, Dhanush interjected.

Currently working as an administration officer at GTRE (Gas Turbine Research Establishment), Dakshinamurthy recalled the hardships he had to face in those days.

"When we used to play, we didn't have proper football grounds and football boots. Each and every player used to work to support their family for their daily wages. I used to go paint homes to earn money to buy football boots and to support my family. All we got after a game was a cup of tea and two slices of bread," he told The Bridge.

"As a father, of course I love to see my kids playing football professionally but I always wanted them to study and be good in education too. That is the only thing which will stand for them after their football career," he added.

Now a proud father of two professional footballers, he sits back and watches on as the sport flourishes in the country and reaches heights which were unimaginable in his days.

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