From Sadalpur village to Bhutan, how football transformed the lives of these 8 girls

By making it to the India squad for an under-15 tournament organised by the SAFF that begins on August 9 in Bhutan, eight girls in shorts and studs have shown that when the spirit is willing, adversity can become strength.

football Updated: Aug 07, 2018 10:02 IST
Saurabh Duggal
Saurabh Duggal
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Sadalpur village,Indian football,Football
By making it to the India squad for an under-15 tournament organised by the SAFF that begins on August 9 in Bhutan, eight girls in shorts and studs have shown that when the spirit is willing, adversity can become strength. Image for representative purposes only. (PTI)

They have fought conservatism and trained at a cemetery, often without the bare essentials needed for a game of football. They have a training ground now but must cycle almost 52 km daily for sessions.

By making it to the India squad for an under-15 tournament organised by the SAFF that begins on August 9 in Bhutan, eight girls in shorts and studs have shown that when the spirit is willing, adversity can become strength.

Sadalpur, a village in Haryana — 40km west of the district headquarters in Hisar — may not yet be a football hub for girls, but the story of Manisha, Anju, Ritu, Kavita, Poonam, Kiran, Nisha and Varsha could change that.

“For the last two years, our girls are making it to the India team but getting so many from one village is a big achievement,” said Vinod Loyal, a former university-level footballer who is also their coach.

BEATING THE ODDS

Most of the girls come from poor or lower middle-class families.

Anju is a striker who scored 18 goals in the sub-junior national championship, nearly half of what her team got, in Cuttack last month.

Her father is a driver. Goalkeeper Manisha’s father is a daily wage worker; Kavita’s father died when she was two and her mother keeps the family going by working as a farm hand.

There are others from families who own strips of land which yield just enough to get by.

“Because of financial limitations, and since both my brothers were already playing football, my father was reluctant that I too play,” Anju said.

“But it was at the insistence of Vinod sir that my father was convinced. Sir was blunt and told my father that instead of investing in my brothers, he should focus on me as I have natural talent for football.

“Thankfully, my father heeded the coach’s advice. After some time, my brothers left the sport but I stuck to it,” said Anju.

Till last year, Vinod ran a centre in Sadalpur.

“We trained at the cemetery [in Sadalpur] for two years… training would be suspended for the day whenever there was a death in the village,” he said.

“The village is dominated by the Bishnoi community and as per tradition, they bury their dead.”

But when the players started giving results, the panchayat allotted land in 2014. Last year, Vinod set up a centre in his village, Chuli Bagrian.

The Vinod Football Academy is 13km from Sadalpur but eight girls cycle twice daily to train with him.

“Yes, there are regular physical training sessions but cycling to and from Sadalpur in the morning and evening has made them stronger,” said Vinod.

COLD-SHOULDER BY HARYANA

The Sadalpur girls made it to the India squad not from Haryana but by representing Himachal Pradesh.

During selection trials in 2014, only two from the village were picked for the Haryana squad.

In the next academic session, 25 girls in the under-14 and under-17 age categories joined a school in Chandigarh. And because of them, Chandigarh won the national under-14 title last year.

This year, most of the girls switched to Himachal Pradesh who finished third in the sub-junior national championship.

“We [Himachal Pradesh] lost narrowly to powerhouse Manipur in the semi-finals.

“But eight of our girls were selected for a camp and eventually made it to the final squad,’ said Vinod.

FROM ONLY BOYS TO THIS

“When I started coaching in Sadalpur, only boys would come for training and I had to convince the families to allow their girls to play football. It took almost a year. But now, the entire village talks about the sport and take pride in the girls’ feat,” he said.

“The girls in my locality used to play football, so I also got fascinated by the sport. But at the start, I was a bit hesitant wearing shorts and T-shirt, so sir (Vinod) allowed me to play in ‘salwar kameez’. After a week or so, I understood that shorts and T-shirt are a requirement of the sport,” said Manisha.

“After we won bronze in an under-14 national schools’ championship in 2015, many girls followed and now parents are encouraging their daughters to pursue football.”

To that, Kiran added: “Initially, apart from our family, our neighbours or relatives in the village were not happy with girls wearing shorts and playing in the open. But, now every medal in the nationals or an international outing means a grand reception by the entire village and that provides a lot of motivation.”

So when Vinod shifted, the girls ensured that the tradition of football in Sadalpur didn’t end but merely moved 13km.

First Published: Aug 07, 2018 09:49 IST