For Shrija Priyanil, 17, dodging parental disapproval was tougher than tackling opponents on the football field. “My family kept saying why are you playing a man’s game,” said the RN Podar student. “I love it.”
Priyanil is among a burgeoning breed of city girls giving their best shot at bending it like Beckham. The Mumbai Schools Sports Association, which conducts football tournaments, had 104 girls’ teams compete this year, compared to 65 in 2004, and 20 in 2001.
This year’s state selections saw 74 girls for the under-14 and 80 for the under-19 trials. A few years ago, there were only 20 girls, said Nirvan Shah, director, Premier India Football Academy (PIFA), which holds camps and tournaments.
Television coverage of the sport and support from schools are attributed for the growing band of girl dribblers.
The Mumbai team were runners up in the ’09 All India (u-14) Girls’ National Football Festival. The Indian team (u-14) won the ’09 Asian Federation Cup . “No one knows about our victories. Women’s sport doesn’t get its due,” rued Anjali Shah, PIFA co-director and manager of the state (u-19) team.
Yet, success is thrilling. “Kids in my school look up to me,” said state captain Natasha Merchant, 14, who also plays for India.
Many girls flirted with the game, joining the local boys. But with schools getting coaches, they took it seriously.
“Football is not just a men’s game,” said Sudeshna Chatterjee, principal Jamnabai Narsee School.