JUST ABOUT a month ago, the players of Government Girls Senior Secondary School from Bhiwani, Haryana, were practising barefoot on a barren, sandy pitch in Alakhpura village near Bhiwani. For the corners and the goalposts, all they had was a set of bricks. About 150 girls from the school had just formed Alakhpura Football Club, and they were eyeing the prestigious under-17 junior girls Subroto Cup football tournament to get on the big league.
With limited facilities available, the girls could do with every bit of help they received — and strong backing came from the locals, with the 2,000 or so villagers of Alakhpura collecting money and giving them Rs 1 lakh to prepare, as well as travel and take part in the tournament in New Delhi.
On Monday, the Bhiwani girls defeated Sports School from Kohima, Nagaland, by a solitary goal to win the title at Delhi’s Ambedkar Stadium. “It’s a very proud moment for the girls, the village, as well as whole of Haryana. The title has come barely one month after the football club was formed, and it has come due to the efforts of the players as well as residents of the village,” Sonika Bijarnia, coach of both the school and Alakhpura Football Club team, said on Monday evening. “Most teams from the Northeast have good training facilities, but our players had little in way of facilities at the village grounds. Today’s victory is thus the result of all the sweat and hard work of the girls.”
Children in the village were introduced to football about eight years ago when Govardhan Dass, a Physical Education teacher from the government school started training the village girls. It did not take Bhiwani Government School much time to hit the headlines – the school team finished second in the state school games in 2008. It’s been a steady upward march since. Nisha Bagaria, whose father is a farmer, emerged the top-scorer and was adjudged the best forward of the tournament, the coach said.
The team’s captain, Samiksha Jakhar, said, “Nisha managed to give her best against strong teams from Nagaland and Meghalaya. She and the other girls trained initially under Govardhan-sir, as also near the village pond, where conditions would get tough in the monsoons. But training under those conditions made us tougher, and we showed that in our semi-final victory (against Umthli Secondary School from Meghalaya with an 8-0 score-line).” Last week, Alakhpura Football Club was also chosen among India’s 10 women clubs to take part in the All-India Football Federation’s women’s I-League starting October 17.
The team is scheduled to play its first game against Odisha’s Rising Student FC, and coach Sonika is confident. “Most of our players train barefoot, as we don’t have any sponsor or many football shoes. But the opportunity to play in the women’s I-League is a huge one, and we are looking forward to it,” Sonika said. “A top place in the tournament can get us sponsors and training equipment at our village.”