Gurugram’s Choma Eagles: Soccer champs who are winning over life
Budding soccer players from underprivileged sections of the society are being groomed by a couple in the Millennium City.Updated: Nov 08, 2019 16:23 IST
With razor-sharp focus and determination to sail through tough times, the Choma Eagles — an all-girls’ football team of the Millennium City — sure know how to keep an eye on the ball. They present formidable competition in the football circuit and are no less than the celebrities in their locality.
The team from the slums of Gurugram are winning laurels on the field, and triumphing over problems in life. For Anjali, the game is helping her fight sexism at home. She shares that once her pictures started appearing in the paper, “tab se ghar ka kaam nahin karna padta hai”. She tells us that her mother used to love her brother more, now “she treats us as equals”.
As for 13-year-old Vandana, who used to study at a government school, the sport has helped her get into a private school. For 15-year-old Sulekha, the daughter of a domestic help, the sports helped her escape “slavery” and “even when there is no money to repair” her bicycle, there is “happiness in kicking the ball on the field”.
These players come from homes where getting two square meals a day is a challenge, but shining bright on their shelves are the trophies that they have won at state and national level competitions. The smiles on their faces are a result of the efforts of Lt Col (Retd) Pradeep Kumar Chowdhri and former Army School principal, Anjana Chowdhri. The husband-wife duo is mentoring more than 40 underprivileged girls.
“We did not realise when the love, and affection [for them] began, and now, we are emotionally attached to each one of them. We know their personality traits that even their parents wouldn’t know. The best part is that despite facing so many problems in their life, they are smiling. And once they start earning, they’ll be on their own. We are not going to leave them until then. We are trying to contact people so that we can give them an education in the field they are good in,” says Anjana, who even travels with them in local buses and has stayed with them in dharamshalas and gurudwaras.
Pradeep adds, “The team from the slums of Gurugram has fought against all odds to win the hearts of football fans. The families of these girls live in abject poverty. Their parents are migrant labourers who have come here to earn a living. Their parents do odd jobs as manual labourers, drivers, and tailors, while their mothers work as domestic helps in Palam Vihar.”
The team is supported by the couple through Choma Eagles Trust, which helps them with not just professional training but also food, academics, as well as a vocational future. “We have friends pitching in to help them financially and professionally,” says Pradeep. Here’s how the sport has become a gamechanger in the lives of these slum kids.
I don’t get sick ever since football’
Vandana, 13, is breathless as she takes a moment to speak to us. Playing with only one eye hasn’t deterred her passion for the game and she has even represented the district in state tournaments. Her family came to Gurugram from Kasba village, Bihar, to work. While her father works as auto driver, her mother works as a domestic help. “Football khelne mein bahut maza aata hai. I don’t get sick since I started playing football, two years ago. Football khelne ke karan pehle main sarkari school mein padhti thi par ab private [school] mein padhti hun. I got the opportunity to meet new people and visit new places because of the sport. Jab nahin khelte the, toh badi didi ko dekh ke sochte the ki hum bhi kisi din khelenge,” she says. Pradeep and Anjana are trying to raise funds for her eye operation, too.
‘Mom dad didn’t like me wearing shorts’
Anjali was only 14 when she played in OORJA tournament where she was the team captain. “Initially, mummy papa ko knickers pasand nahin the,” she says, adding, “Now, when they see our photos in the papers, they become really happy. Mummy khush hoke kabhi-kabhi legs daba deti hain. Ghar ka kaam nahin karna padta hai. She used to love my brother more than me. Now, she treats us as equals. Papa itna pyar karte hain, jo kehti hun le ke aate hai.. I didn’t know how to play, confidence nahin tha pehle. Now, I love being a goalkeeper. Sabse acha dive maarna lagta hai; lambi ball pakadna, lambi kick maarna pasand hai.”
‘I want to score a goal like Ronaldo’
Sulekha, 15, runs like a gazelle. She was awarded the best midfielder trophy at the Diana Jones Football League held in Delhi. Her mother, who works as a domestic help, was hoodwinked by a couple into sending Sulekha with them on the promise that they would educate her. She was, in fact, made a “slave”, and it was with great difficulty that her mother was able to rescue her. Many a times, at the end of the month, Sulekha cannot get her cycle repaired because of scarcity of money. But the third eldest of five girls has found great support in Pradeep and Anjana. Ask about her favourite players, and she names Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Juan Mata. “Messi jo goal maarta hai, his dribbling skills... Ronaldo ne jo goal maara tha in FIFA, I want to hit a goal like that. Everyone in the house believes I’ll become something one day. Mummy kehti hain samaaj ko jo kehna hain kehne do, main tujhe nahin rokungi,” she says.
Eye problem notwithstanding, life is good
Fifteen year old Riya is battling an eye condition called pars planitis, which is characterised by symptoms such as blurred vision, dark, floating spots in the vision, and even progressive vision loss. However, she continues playing for the love of the game. Her vision becomes blurry sometimes but she won’t let it stop her. She says, “Eye problem toh hai. Aankh mein jaale aate hain. Kabhi woh badh jaate hain, kabhi kam ho jaate hain. But I love playing and I stay mentally and physically fit because of the game. I waited to reach class 7th to learn the game.” The talented girl, whose father is a driver and mother a domestic help, says, “this sport is my ticket to travel and happiness.”
Interact with the author on Twitter/@Nainaarora8