These 5 clubs are proving to be the game-changer for women’s football in India
Women’s football, despite being the step-child of the football association, is growing at a rapid pace in India. But problems remain. Apart from being a male-dominated game, women players have to deal with lack of exposure, funds, and teams.
In 2017, India played host to the Under-17 Men’s World Cup, which proved to be incremental for grassroots football in the country. The country is now set to host the Under-17 FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2020, and football enthusiasts are hoping this will give the game a fillip.
While in European countries, and more recently in India, club football has emerged as the saviour of the game, women’s clubs in India need to be nurtured so that the game can deepen its roots.
The All India Football Federation’s Hero Indian Women’s League, a low-profile, shorter counterpart to the star-studded ISL (Indian Super League), has not succeeded in reaping similar benefits for the women’s game.
However, some of these clubs have become clusters for talent, and are expanding opportunities for women and girls keen to follow their passion for the game.
HerStory lists five clubs that are offering new talent an opportunity to flourish:
The Madurai-based club was recently crowned champions of IWL 2019. In their maiden title campaign, Sethu FC won all matches and scored a staggering tally of 45 goals in eight matches, which included drubbing the SSB Central team 8-1 in the semi-finals.
With 14 local players, and seven players from other states, including a Nepali player Sabrita Bhandari, the team is led by 25-year-old Indumathi. It has six Indian national team players: wingers Sandhiya and Dangmei Grace, midfielders Ashrani Devi and Ratanbala Devi, as well as Ashalata Devi and Sweet Devi. Coach Amrutha Aravind has put together a side now renowned for its coordinated attack and stingy defence. Amrutha begins scouting ahead of time to select the best and trains the team in Chennai before the tournament begins.
Manipur Police SC
Along with Sethu FC, Manipur FC was among the two best teams in the league during the last season. The team from the North East was a strong contender for the trophy in 2019. It was undefeated in all games except one in the league stage. They were second in the tally for most goals scored - 41 of them.
Their star player and India international, Bala Devi, considered to be the best in the country at present, found the back of the net 26 times during the league stage, making her the highest goal-scorer in the competition. Bala is supported by India U-19 international Day Devi in the attack. The duo is a potent force for Manipur in the front field. For Coach Surmala Devi, the duo and a crop of local players form an attacking troupe in the league.
Gokulam Kerala FC
Gokulam Kerala FC is the only ISL club to field a team in the IWL. In 2019, the team reached the semi-finals, but was ousted by Manipur FC.
Unlike many top performing teams, GK FC is not dependent on one player. Every game saw a new player take charge, and the league stage produced eight different goal-scorers for the team.
Captained by charismatic India international Dalima Chhibber, the team is filled with talent and experience. Sanju and Anju Tamang were on target for the team, along with Mizo forward Babysena Devi and teenage sensation Manisha. The team comprises five India international players, and players from Haryana, Manipur, and Delhi. India U-19 coach Priya PV is the head coach for the team.
The team was criticised for not including any players from the home state. But the franchise has grassroots academies in Kerala, and is developing young talent. It has three girl’s teams in the U-13, U-15 and U-18 age groups.
The team from Alakhpura village in Haryana has scripted a heartening tale with its endeavours. Head coach Sonika Bijuria, 37, is one of two women coaches in the state. With the efforts of Sonika and the girls of Alakhpura, the small village of 2,000 people has become a hotbed of football talent. ,
In 2018, nine players from the club were part of the state team, and over the years, more than a dozen players from the club have been part of the national side. The state is infamous for having the worst gender ratio in the country, and crimes against women in the state have a rising curve. Before the success of the club, parents would be afraid to send their girls out of the house alone. Now, majority of girls from the village train in the football field next to the only school in the village.
Most players in the team are teenagers. These include Ritu, 17, and Nishu, 19, who play for the state team also and look up to 20-year-old teammate Sanju Yadav, who is playing for the Indian national side. The team is funded by contributions from the villagers and was registered with AIFF only in 2017. But it has made a tremendous impact on grassroots tournaments and finished as semi-finalists in their maiden IWL participation in 2018.
Rising Student FC
A team from Odisha, Rising Student FC won the IWL in 2018, and received the runners-up trophy in 2017. In 2018, it pipped Eastern Sporting Union in the finals on penalties 5-4 to lift the trophy. The team includes state players like keeper Rani Bhowmick, Krishna Barick, Devneta Roy, Sradhanjali Panda, and more. Sanju Yadav and Anju Tamang, who have now moved to different teams, were also part of RSC in the successful 2018 season.
Head coach Sukhwinder Singh spotlights the poor funding scenario in the game when he speaks about the inability to find sponsors for the team even after winning the tournament.
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)