Goa giants Dempo SC has recently recruited 31-year-old Anju Turambekar former Head of Grassroots Development, All India Football Federation (AIFF) as their Technical Director. Anju has been in headlines when she came out to be the youngest AFC A licence coach in the country and first Indian woman to be on the AFC panel and this time, it’s another pioneering feather as she has turned out to be the first woman TD of any Asian club.
The Bridge came out with an up-close and personal conversation with the lady after her first week at Goa. She spoke out boldly about the holistic approach that she has brought in the grassroots of Indian football and also gave a glimpse of her future goals at her new endeavour. The Maharashtra born lady, who is also a passionate biker, shared her thoughts about the woman stereotypes and the way to quench the gap towards women empowerment.
The Bridge: Anju, you have started as a woman footballer and you have worked as a key person in the Indian grassroots and now the TD of Dempo SC. Share with us the journey from the grounds of Maharashtra to the Football House and now to Goa.
Anju: It’s been a long journey and a lot of things to reflect. I started playing football late as I have completely missed the grassroots and the age-group competitions as a player but thankfully, I picked up quickly when I started playing. I faced competition only when I opted for the trials and the national championship came out to be the first challenging situation for me. However, after a few years, I found things changing a lot in women’s football with respect to exposure and participation. Like others, I wanted to play for my country and I worked hard for that but unfortunately, things turned as I had to give up my playing dreams as a lot of circumstances changed at that time.
My work was interesting, I used to be very happy coaching both girls and boys and was learning a lot from my daily experiences. Gradually, I was promoted to a bit different job as I was recruited to train the coaches and thus, I started to evolve as a coach educator. The exposure to the Netherlands came next, as I completed my D licence and a lot of people out there inspired me. I again came back to coaching and this time with a men’s team in the super division. I always enjoyed putting in my brain and ideas, planning the sessions and making things done on the field.
Eventually, I got an opportunity to participate in the FIFA Grassroots Course recommended by WIFA and there I learned a lot about the grassroots development and understood the prospective and the work need to be done and from there I got an opportunity to join the AIFF.
I have been fortunate enough to be handed the baton to lead and drive the most significant programme throughout the country. The past six years were a completely enriching experience of learnings, challenges, hopes, stress, pain, joy, happiness and most importantly the undying hunger to improve myself every single day.
I had an enormous learning experience working for the federation and I think I have been able to make a bit of the holistic approach in the Grassroots that was not so much prevalent couple of years back. Now I want to deliver the best to my Club Dempo SC with all my constructive experience and my expertise as the role I have taken is the mixture of everything that I have done in my past and this is my journey so far.
The Bridge: It's quite a long and inspiring journey I must say. So, you have always been a girl to break the stereotypes from being a women footballer to the youngest Indian coach to earn AIFF A licence. How do you feel about it and what pushes you to evolve yourself in this way?
Anju: Be it coach, administration or the manager role you take in women’s football the exposure is always less as compare to the men’s football, not only in India but worldwide and it is how that it is. But that doesn’t mean you cannot play a role in the game. So, if you have that dream to make the difference, learn and make yourself better every day then you can make it big in life. I think what I have learned from the game over the years is tremendous and the game has given me a lot of experience and exposure. People are congratulating after I have been named the TD they are telling that I am the first Indian woman to get in and probably the first club in Asia to bring in a woman in this role. With every single appreciation I got very humbled and with every single achievement, I think I am a more responsible person in the industry even when I got in AFC panel. So that’s how I have taken things.
The Bridge: What made you choose Dempo SC, Goa as your next career destination?
Anju: From my early days, I have heard a lot about the NFL and I-leagues clubs from Goa. I was very much influenced by Goan footballing history and that definitely played a role here. During my early days, Goa used to have SAI hostel and they had a women’s team and they practised regularly and the players used to participate in National championship and I had few friends from Goa and I always wanted to come to Goa to become a better player. Dempo Sports Club is truly an institution in Indian football and I am grateful and honoured to take up this opportunity to contribute to the legacy of this renowned club. Visionary Leader, Chairman, and President- Mr.Dempo's vision for the club and Indian football, in the long run, inspired me to join hands for the betterment of the game. Together we are looking to bring a holistic approach towards setting up a model ecosystem that can nurture talent and compete with the best in the country. I am excited to own my responsibilities exhibiting professionalism with all my passion, respect and love for the game to make the difference here.
The Bridge: Anju, you played a chief role behind the formation and the success of the “Mission Xi million” project. Do you think this experience will help you to deal with things in your new role better?
Anju: Yes, it’s definitely going to boost my work. This legacy program came up with a lot of experience for me and it made me understand a lot about the footballing stature prevailing India. Working with the government, various stakeholders, technical experts etc. was a great learning experience. Every state, every school was a different experience altogether. So, I think the things that I have gathered from my first day at industry till now will help me a lot in my business here at Dempo.
The Bridge: Do you have plans to develop women’s football team at goa?
Anju: I will be more than happy to do that. It's going to be a long-term plan and it is the particular site where a lot of impacts can be made with respect to women empowerment, gender equality and many more.
"The adaption capability and the learning capacity is same for all the kids around the world of the same age group but what matterS is what we do with that age group as a manager, coach, parent or as bus driver"-on Indian grassroots development
The Bridge: What according to you are the major things that need to be changed in the grassroots development of Indian football?
Anju: It's great and I feel happy to reflect and witness the growth of the grassroots development in the country. I will like to see all the people involved to give a lot of importance to the whole set of ladders, which is happening for now and needs to continue. The communication along the system should be well maintained. The exposure should be made more wide and regular practice is the sole way to get into the line as Baby League is the stage to showcase the talent but the academies need to be the place where talent should be cultured on regular basis. The adaption capability and the learning capacity is same for all the kids around the world of the same age group but what its matter is what we do with that age group as a manager, coach, parent, teacher, and etc.
The Bridge: Who has been your greatest inspiration in life so far?
Anju: It’s my grandmother who is now 103-year-old and can still cook and take care of herself. We don’t meet every day and she also don’t understand everything I do in life but she is a great source of strength for me. She is a very independent woman and very passionate about life and human being. I have learned a lot from her in terms of humanity, honesty, values, hard work and commitment.
The Bridge: As of now you have turned to be one of the Grassroot football development leaders where do you see yourself in the upcoming five years?
Anju: I definitely want to stay in the game as football is my love and passion. I want to contribute to the larger perspective of Indian football. Now I want to give my 100% for the Club, all my passion for the game in my current position and I want to carry forward the legacy that I have created for now. Try to evolve myself and I want to continue to inspire people out there to be successful.