Remember Jesminder “Jess” Bhamra from ‘Bend It Like Beckham’? The 18-year-old protagonist of the British comedy-drama movie whose passion for football eventually helps her show that the talent for the beautiful game is not limited to men alone.
Now meet Anika, our very own Jess, who can never have enough of football. And it is this never-ending craze for the sport that has taken the 16-year-old city girl places:
Besides being a regular member of the UT age group teams, which has given Anika the opportunity to play two national championships, she has represented the country in the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) under16 championship.
As of now, she is hoping to find a place in Indian team to be selected for the AFC U-19 qualifiers to be held later this year.
“I played fine in the under-19 Nationals held in Odisha last December. I hope my hard work gets noticed,” said Anika, who started practising football at the age 11.
“The football bug bit me quite early in my childhood and I remember playing the game with the boys of our colony at a park near my house. But it was only five years ago that I decided to pursue the sport seriously,” shares the teenager studying in Class 12 at Sacred Hear t School, Sector 26.
Back in 2009, Anika had started with badminton at the Sector-42 sports complex, but soon realised that her heart lay somewhere else. “On my way to the badminton hall, I would often stop to watch trainees of Chandigarh Football Academy (CFA) practice.
“I eventually realised that football was the game for me. A few days later, I, along with my father, approached CFA head coach Harjinder sir. He agreed to train me and this is how my career started,” adds Anika, who plays as midfielder and has three gold medals in different editions of the UT inter-school event.
Football has not only got Anika medals and applauds, but also helped her drive a point home.
“I believe that girls are no less than boys. We may not be physically very strong, but we are as talented and hard working as them. If given requisite infrastructure and proper platform, girls can do wonders in football, just as Saina Nehwal is doing in badminton and Sania Mirza in tennis.”
She also points out that to pursue any sport backing of parents and coaches is as important as self-motivation.
“My parents have never stopped me from playing football, and my coaches have also been equally supportive.
“But there are many parents, who hesitate in allowing their daughters to pursue the sport either because of the assumption that it would divert their ward’s attention from studies or that playing football does not provide as much scope for the girls as it does for boys. I believe this approach should change, as it renders talent useless,” added the player, who considers Ronaldo the best footballer and is great fan of Barcelona Club.