Alakhpura

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Football nursery

A briefer 2018 report

Avijit Ghosh, August 5, 2018: The Times of India


On a windy monsoon afternoon, rain looms over Alakhpura. A bunch of middle-aged women, many of them in ghoonghat, are filling their pitchers with drinking water at a handpump. In an adjacent ground, more than 150 girls in bright jerseys and brighter shorts are playing football; a telling illustration of how two Indias often co-exist side by side.

Alakhpura is the epicentre of women’s football in Haryana. In the senior nationals this year, almost half the team came from this sprawling, Jat-majority village in Bhiwani district.

Sometimes, the girls arrive at the ground after collecting water for home, just like the older women at the handpump. But unlike them, they have bigger goals. They can dribble, tackle, feint and foul. And they dream of playing in bigger grounds before bigger crowds. Some of them already have. Like India striker Sanju Yadav, who scored 15 goals in the inaugural 2016 India Women’s League and became All India Football Federation’s Emerging Player of the Year. Like Samiksha Jakhar, who delivered the telling cross that led to India’s lone goal against South Africa in the BRICS U-17 tournament last month. Like Nisha Bagaria, who fired 18 goals in the 2015 Subroto Cup (U-17) and was declared Player of the Tournament.

There are literally dozens who have turned out for Haryana in different agegroup tournaments. It’s almost an assembly line of footballers who have swept past gender barriers. The village even hosted a “baby league” of U-8, U-10 and U-12 girls this year.

Former midfielder Sonika Bijaria runs the show. A trained coach from Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports, Patiala, her daily schedule is tougher than her wards. Morning practice starts at 5.30 and ends at 8.30. The afternoon session begins at 3 and extends beyond 5.30. Wards are divided into age-groups: U-14, U-17, U-19, seniors. “We work on everything: fitness, strength, skill,” she says. YouTube, with its bounty of videos on football skills, is a handy aid. Videos clips are downloaded on mobile phones and played back during training. “Sometimes she shows us videos of Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo,” says defender Ravina Yadav, member of the Subroto Cup-winning team in 2015.

It isn’t just football. Sonika also deals with pushy parents, keeps clippings of every triumph and maintains a register of contributions. For instance, the Haryana agriculture department supplied footballs and the education department presented dumbbells.

Mangali (Hissar district), Bhambheva (Jind) and Manas (Kaithal) are three other villages which have made a mark in football. But Alakhpura is a cut above. Its Govt Senior Secondary School lifted the Subroto Cup (U-17) two years in a row (2015 and 2016). FC Alakhpura even played in the inaugural Indian Women’s Football League in 2017, losing in the semis. In a preliminary-round game, they humiliated Royal Wahingdoh 18-0; Sanju Yadav scoring 7 of them.

Football has also become a gateway to jobs here. Eight girls have found employment in the paramilitary and railways through the sports quota. “Haryana is known for boxing, wrestling, athletics, but the state had no history in women’s football. But these young girls from Haryana, especially from Alakhpura, have put the state on the map of women’s football,” says football journalist and historian Novy Kapadia.

Rather ironical, considering that the village’s child sex ratio is just 813, lower than the state’s abysmal average of 834, the 2011 census shows. And the gap between male and female literacy rate is a yawning 27% — 85% (males) and 58% (females) Alakhpura’s incredible story started in 2006 when some schoolgirls told their physical instructor Gordhan Das that they wanted to play a sport. Das gave them a football.

Impressed by what he saw, the former kabaddi player decided to coach them even though he knew little about the game’s finer aspects. What he lacked in skill, Das made up in commitment and enthusiasm. “When it rained and the field was slushy, he would take us out running cross-country,” recalls Tanuja Jakhar, a marginal farmer’s daughter who enjoys playing full-back.

In an area where patriarchy reigns, it wasn’t easy to let girls take up the sport. Das would go to a girl’s home if she didn’t turn up on the field and find out why. “It helped that my own daughter played football. It was easier to convince the parents,” says Das. He even sought the help of a local footballer, Vikas, paying him Rs 10,000 from his own salary.

When Sonika came to the village as an appointee of the Haryana sports department in 2014, the two became a team. Since Das’ transfer in 2017, she has the task of training over 150 girls every day, with a little help from physical education instructor Bhupinder Singh, who’s in charge of the U-6 and U-8 teams.

“Now every parent wants his daughter to play for Haryana. Tell me, when there are 30-40 girls in each age group from our own village, how’s that possible?” Sonika asks.

The Olympics and Haryana

2019: national dominance

Avijit Ghosh, How football has demolished gender barriers in a Haryana village, March 22, 2019: The Times of India

ALAKHPURA, HARYANA: On a windy afternoon, rain looms over Alakhpura. A bunch of middle-aged women, some veiled, are filling drinking water in dark-coloured pitchers. In an adjacent ground, more than 150 girls in bright jerseys and brighter shorts are playing football; a blunt illustration of how two Indias often co-exist side by side.

Alakhpura is the epicentre of women’s football in Haryana. In the senior nationals last year, almost half the team came from this sprawling, Jat-majority village in Bhiwani district.

Sometimes, the girls arrive at the ground after collecting water for home, just like the older women at the hand pump. But unlike them, they have goals of their own. They can dribble, tackle, feint and foul. And they dream of playing in bigger grounds before bigger crowds. Some of them already have. Like India striker Sanju Yadav, who scored 15 goals in the inaugural 2016 India Women’s League and became AIFF’s Emerging Player of the Year. Like Samiksha Jakhar, who delivered the telling cross that led to India’s lone goal against South Africa in the BRICS U-17 tournament in 2017. Like Nisha Bagaria, who fired 18 goals in the 2015 Subroto Cup (U-17) and was declared Player of the Tournament.

There are many others, literally dozens, who have turned out for Haryana in different age-group tournaments. It’s almost an assembly line of footballers. The village even hosted a “baby league” of U-8, U-10 and U-12 girls last year. A former midfielder, Sonika Bijaria, runs the show. A trained coach from NIS, Patiala, her daily schedule is tougher than her wards’. Morning practice starts at 5.30 and ends at 8.30. The afternoon session begins at 3 and extends beyond 5.30. Wards are divided into age-groups: U-14, U-17, U-19, seniors. "We work on everything -- fitness, strenth, skill," she says.

YouTube, home to hundreds of videos on football skills, is a handy aid. Videos clips are downloaded on mobile phones and played back during training. “Sometimes she also shows us videos of Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo,” says defender Ravina Yadav, member of the Subroto Cup-winning team in 2015.

It isn’t just football. Sonika also deals with pushy parents, keeps clippings of every triumph and maintains a register of contributions. For instance, the Haryana agriculture department supplied footballs and the education department presented dumbbells.

Mangali (Hissar district), Bhambheva (Jind) and Manas (Kaithal) are three other villages which have made a mark in football. But Alakhpura is a cut above. Its Govt Senior Secondary School lifted the Subroto Cup (U-17) two years in a row (2015 and 2016) though Hissar’s Govt Girls Sr Secondary School was the first Haryana school to claim the coveted national trophy among girls.

FC Alakhpura even played in the inaugural Indian Women’s Football League in 2017, losing in the semis. In a preliminary-round game, they humiliated Royal Wahingdoh 18-0; Sanju Yadav scoring 7 of them.


India to host U-17 Women's World Cup in 2020

India will host the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup next year. This will be the second FIFA tournament India will be hosting, after the U-17 Men's World Cup in 2017. The venues to host the mega football event will be decided soon. As host country, India automatically qualifies for the 16-team event.

Football has also become a gateway to jobs. Eight girls have found employment in the paramilitary and railways through the sports quota. “Haryana is known for boxing, wrestling, athletics, but the state had no history in women’s football. But these young girls from Haryana, especially from Alakhpura, have put the state on the map of women’s football,” says football journalist and historian Novy Kapadia.

Rather ironical, considering that the village’s child sex ratio is an unhealthy 813, lower by even the state’s abysmal average of 834, the 2011 census shows. And the gap between male and female literacy is a yawning 27% -- 85% (males) and 58% (females)

Alakhpura’s incredible story started in 2006 when some schoolgirls told their physical instructor Gordhan Das that they wanted to play a sport. Das gave them a football. Impressed by what he saw, the former kabaddi player decided to coach them even though he knew little about the game’s finer aspects. What he lacked in skill, Das made up in commitment and enthusiasm. “When it rained and the field felt like slush, he would take us out running cross-country,” recalls Tanuja Jakhar, a marginal farmer’s daughter who enjoys playing full-back.

In an area where patriarchy reigns, it wasn’t easy to let girls take up the sport. Das would go to a girl’s home if she didn’t turn up on the field and find out why. He even sought the help of a local footballer, Vikas, paying him Rs 10,000 from his own salary.

When Sonika came to the village as an appointee of the Haryana sports department in 2014, the two became a team. Since Das’ transfer in 2017, she has the task of training over 150 girls every day, with a little help from physical education instructor Bhupinder Singh, who’s in charge of the U-6 and U-8 teams.

“Now every parent wants his daughter to play for Haryana. Tell me, when there are 30-40 girls in each age group from our own village, how’s that possible?” Sonika asks. In Alakhpura, football has demolished stereotypes and swept past gender barriers.

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