Radha’s Football Journey: Playing in India

I always under-estimated social media and its power to connect people from across the globe. One day, while brushing my teeth and scrolling through Instagram, I came across an ad posted by Girls Soccer Network, looking for interns. And just like that, began the internship of my life — a perfect blend of incredible mentors, a lot of work experience and right in the epicenter of my interests — women’s soccer (ahem..football). So here I am, to share my experience as a woman playing football in India.

I’m not quite sure how it all started. I was always encouraged to play sports by my parents, and as a child I played just about anything that the boys were playing in my neighborhood — cricket, basketball, football. When I was 10, my Phys Ed Coach saw me matching up to the boys I was playing football with, and he insisted I attend the formal school coaching — which was conducted a bit too early in the morning for me.

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After much convincing, I attended one practice — the practice that changed my life. It became my favourite part of the day. My father would drive my younger sister and I to training three times a week . I was finally playing with a bunch of girls, all with different personalities but sharing the same interest and working towards a common goal. From having no female football role models, I now had my seniors to look up to — the one’s paving the way for us. We won the U-12 inter-school tournament that year, becoming the best girls team in our city! The momentum just continued — we cruised through two years of being U-14 Champions and then two more as U-16 winners as well.

It’s been 10 years now that I’ve been playing football competitively. Almost every school in India has made an effort to have a girls football team now, and things are looking up. School girls now have Indian female footballers to look up to. Bala Devi has become an icon, being the first Indian woman to sign a fully professional contract overseas, with Rangers FC. With the U-17 FIFA Women’s World Cup in India in 2021, the interest and investment in girls football will grow exponentially, and I can’t wait to see that happen!

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I have played on three teams throughout my 10 years. Grade 5-9 on my school team. Then I shifted schools and played my high school years there, grades 10-12. Both teams saw a lot of success along with some championship game heartbreaks — which, I believe, is also important to experience as it builds a teams’ resilience and character.

As I write this, I have just finished my first year at Ashoka University, albeit the last bit was online. I played on the women’s football team here as well and might I add we had somewhat of a golden run. We played 18 inter-collegiate games across five tournaments, scoring 51 goals, conceding only eight and bringing home three Championships and one Runners-Up trophy. But what made this season really special were the people. My team.

Now along with having seniors and international icons to look up to, I also have my peers. I think this quarantine period has really tested out all sorts of relationships, and I can comfortably say that our football team is going to be very tight knit, for a long long time. We chat almost every day and when we are not playing games via Zoom, we are watching reruns of WoSo classics. Most recently we also conducted a community project as a team — combining our urge to remain fit with the aim to give back to society in these trying times.

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The initiative was ‘Kilometres for A Cause’ where we would cover KMs and get people to sponsor us. We didn’t just do the running/cycling/walking — we also did all the behind the scenes work — from outreach to awareness to marketing and handling the social media channels. At the end of six weeks, we covered a total of 4,996 km and raised Rs. 9,63,080 ($12,860) for six charity organizations. We had over 60 athletes join forces and 150+ sponsors (all this while still maintaining social distancing as per Govt. rules).

I am grateful to this beautiful game as it has the unique power of uniting people, not only on the field but off the field as well. As my internship comes to an end, I am still in awe at how the stars sort of aligned for me to have this unforgettable experience under the GSN team. I mentioned how I underestimated the power of social media at the beginning of this little rant, but there is one thing that I underestimated even more — the power of sport. The power to transform individuals, relationships and society — it’s pretty incredible. 

From being a naive 10 year old who didn’t want to wake up for practice, to an informed 20 year old who follows global and domestic women’s football, I have the sport to thank, the sport and its people.



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