As many as 8 ladies from Jharkhand have been called up for the women’s world cup U-17 squad, while many more have made the waiting list from the state.
Jharkhand is not traditionally known as a footballing hotbed but is building a strong footballing culture at a very fast pace. The Jharkhand Football Association (JFA) is ticking all the right boxes to spread the sport in every nook and corner of the state.
Jharkhand FA has been promoting the Women’s football at a very rigorous pace for the past few years, And in 2019 they even reaped rewards in the Sub-Junior and Junior Girls National Football Championship, bagging gold and silver respectively in the two competitions. The hard work did not go unnoticed and the national selectors recommended as many as 8 players from Jharkhand for the U17 women’s world cup that is set to start from July 20 in Goa.
Under the leadership of JFA secretary Ghulam Rabbani, the state association has been taking efforts to popularize the game and undertaking ambitious scouting programmes in 10-12 districts of Jharkhand, with Suryaman Pradhan and Asish Bose leading the scouting missions. Not only Urban centres like Bokaro, Ranchi, Jamshedpur, the two men also travelled to tribal-dominated areas Gulma, Ramgarh, and Koderma to spot the talents.
“Gulma is a very productive district. The girls from Gulma are the brightest. We go to around 11-12 districts and try to bring out the best talents from there. At first, we don’t tell them anything. We just watch them play. If we like someone we approach their parents so that they can be trained further,” narrated Pradhan to Goal.
Hailing mostly from tribal areas, the girls belong to financially weak backgrounds, where education, diet, and training are still a distant dream. When selected, the girls are then admitted to a residential missionary school where they are nourished, educated, and trained to take the next step in football.
“The girls train for almost two years in these schools. The school coaches work on their basics and after that, they are sent to various football academies that are there in the state. The best ones are given a chance in SAI (Sports Authority of India) Ranchi complex. But all of them cannot be placed and this is a cause of concern. So many of them stay back at home.
When they are at home they work in the fields and even involve themselves in ploughing and cattle grazing. Although they train twice a day, one must admit that the development is hindered. But we remain in constant touch with all players and check on their progress,” said Pradhan, who is himself a D-license holder.
Socio-cultural and Economic conditions are also said to have contributed to the skills of the girls. The rigours of agricultural activities along with exposure to poverty and hardships have fortified them physically and mentally.
Football is one of the ways for these girls to change their lives and ensure that their families are fed two square meals a day.
“One of the girls came to us and at that time she had never participated in a competition But after watching her play, I immediately told the headmaster and Rabbani Sir to apply for her passport. She is now with the India U17 team. So, you see that football is being perceived as a game-changer in their lives. More importantly, they are obedient and will practice for hours without even complaining.
30 round ground ke marne ko bolenge toh bhi maaregi. (Will run for 30 rounds around the ground without complaining). Bhookh hai seekhne ka (They are hungry to learn).”
Bose, who is second only to Pradhan when it comes to dedication towards the project, believes that the girls could be benefited more if the state camps were held for a few more months rather than the customary one month camp before the commencing of the national championship.
“If we had got some sponsors then we would have conducted the camp for three-four months. Now it is done for 25 days. Sometimes we get only 15 days.” said Bose.
Recently Jharkhand was granted a “special-state” status by the AIFF after the phenomenal success of the U14 and U17 district tournaments. This will surely improve the already excellent performance of the Girls.
“The AIFF has come forward to help us. The ‘Special State’ status should be a major boost to our ambitions. We are striving to push the girls of our state to a better future. We hope that a national level training camp will be held in Jharkhand in the coming months,” informed Rabbani, who is also in touch with the Jharkhand government to ensure that a certain percent of the jobs are reserved for the girls who bring glory to the state by playing football.
In the group stages of the sub-junior championship, Jharkhand scored 24 goals in two matches. Nitu Linda, personally groomed by Pradhan and Bose, stuck 13 times in the tournament.
At 57, Pradhan feels his journey has just started and he is willing to do anything for the girls of his state, so they can have a bright future.
“Trophy ke peeche nehi bhaagte hai hum. Ladikyo ko India k liye kaabil banana hai. (I don’t run after trophies. But the girls should be capable of representing India),” asserts Pradhan whose personal journey as a player stopped leagues before donning the famed blue jersey of the national team.
Indian has its history with the FIFA from as early as the ’50s but this time it is the Girls who are going to lament their name in the history of FIFA.