When Indian team goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan started her first game for West Ham Ladies in an FA Women’s Premier League game on Sunday, it may not have seemed like a big deal. The match ended in a 0-5 loss to Coventry United.
But Chauhan’s appearance was special: she became the first player from the national women’s team to play competitively in England. No small feat for a girl from a country where the idea of sport revolves around cricket and little else.
The 22-year-old from Delhi was signed pre-season by the third-tier London club for one year from Loughborough University in Leicestershire, where she recently completed an MSc in sports management.
“It’s a step up for me (after playing for Loughborough). To play with better players in a better league will help me improve,” Chauhan said on the West Ham Ladies official Youtube channel. “I am excited about the league. I am looking forward to playing for West Ham.”
Chauhan — who admires German goalie Manuel Neuer and “just loves” Lionel Messi’s game — is, however, not the first woman of Indian origin to have played for an English club. Delhi-born Tanvie Hans, a midfielder, earlier played for the Tottenham Hotspur reserve team before joining Fulham Foundation FC. Tanvie, who moved to England for higher studies, is now a British citizen and, hence, ineligible to play for the Indian team.
With Chauhan joining West Ham, India now has two national team goalkeepers plying their trade in Europe.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
, a 23-year-old who stands a little over 6 feet 5 inches, plays for Stabaek FC in Norway.
Chauhan’s achievement, though a cause for celebration, is also a reflection on the state of affairs of women’s football in India. There is no top-tier league and the idea of a Women’s Super League — floated by the promoters of the Indian Super League — has remained just that. This despite the women’s team enjoying a better world ranking (55) than the men (156).
Foreign stints have been few and far between for India’s male footballers too. Former captain Baichung Bhutia struggled to find playing time in Europe while Sunil Chhetri, the best player in the ranks at the moment, had a forgettable stint with Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon’s B team. More recently, Romeo Fernandes of Goa prematurely ended his contract with Brazil’s Atletico PR after failing to get regular playing time.