Ghanaian Sevens footballer spends 72 days at Mumbai airport

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Juan Muller
Juan Muller during a Sevens tournament in Thrissur.

Mumbai: Juan Muller’s story has parallels to the 2004 Tom Hanks-starrer The Terminal, where a man gets stuck at an airport in New York after he is unable to return to his country because of a military coup.

When Muller, a 23-year-old footballer from Ghana, arrived in Kerala about eight months ago to play the lucrative Sevens Football, he dreamt of making a quick buck and support his family back home. But all his dreams came crashing down after the busy Sevens season in Kerala came to a grinding halt following the coronavirus-induced lockdown.

After the lockdown was imposed, he planned to return home and bought a flight ticket for March 30 from Mumbai to Ghana via Kenya. But before he could return, the Indian government cancelled all international flights and he was stuck at the airport.

The youngster had lived in the transit area of the Mumbai airport from March 21 - for 72 days – before he was taken to a hotel in Bandra.

He was provided a shelter after Shiv Sena Minister Aaditya Thackeray, who is also the president of the Mumbai District Football Association, saw his desperate tweet for help and intervened in the matter.

The issue was also brought to the attention of the authorities at the Ghanaian High Commission in New Delhi who are now trying to arrange for his return trip.

The footballer landed in India in November, 2019, ahead of the start of the Sevens Football season in north Kerala. He came on a six-month visa obtained through agents. He played for a number of clubs in Thrissur, including the Kechery-based ORPC Sports Club. He was looking to make some money and return home at the end of the season in April, but COVID-19 crisis came as a bolt from the blue that badly hit all his plans and soon his financial situation became complicated with no play happening.

Once he learned about the lockdown, Muller decided to go back to Ghana. He travelled to Mumbai from Thrissur on March 21 to catch his Kenya Airways flight to Ghana which was scheduled for March 30, but it was then the Centre cancelled all international flights, leaving him stranded in Mumbai.

“I could not find a place to stay as all the hotels and dormitories in the city were closed down. I approached the Mumbai Police who advised me to go to the airport and stay there. I’m grateful to the employees of Crystal Lounge who offered me food packets and drinking water. In the meantime, my phone died and I lost contact with my family. One of the security officers at the airport gave me his mobile phone so that I could call my family. I was surviving on snacks and bread offered by the airport staff when the local football authorities came to my rescue and took me to a hotel in Bandra,” Muller said, narrating his ordeal.

This was Muller’s maiden visit to India and it turned out to be eventful.

“In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Kerala. I was addicted to local delicacies such as parotta and biryani. I could pick up some Malayalam words as well. I’m hoping to travel to Ghana soon along with the students from my country who are also stuck in India. I’m also looking forward to celebrate my 24th birthday which falls on June 9 (Tuesday) with family,” Muller added.

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