Hailing from India's boxing capital, Sharda dreams of playing in the football World Cup
Originally from Bhiwani in Haryana, Sharda is one of many from her village who have made a name for themselves in football.
Bhiwani in Haryana has always been touted as the boxing capital of the country. But over the last few years, Alakhpura village in the region has emerged as a footballing nursery for girls which might surprise a lot of people considering the state's disrepute as a hub for patriarchy. While names like Sanju Yadav and Poonam Sharma have already made inroads into the domestic football set-up for women, there are many others from the region who have the talent to make it big and dream of representing India one day. One such name is Sharda, who is currently playing as a centre-back for Maatru Pratishtana FC in the Karnataka State Football Association (KSFA) Women's Super Division League, also referred to as the Karnataka Women's League (KWL).
Having been introduced to the game when she was still only 11, Sharda is one of six siblings including one brother, all of whom are associated with the beautiful game back home in Alakhpura. As a result, support from her family members was never much of an issue. This is the second time that Sharda is playing in Bangalore, she was here last year as well during the Indian Women's League (IWL) where she played for Kenkre FC, one of the most prominent clubs in the Mumbai footballing circuit.
The journey till here hasn't been easy though. Sharda and others like her started playing barefoot in the local grounds without much in the form of guidance. Although Gordhan Dass, the local school's kabaddi teacher, was the one who sparked their interest in the game, his limited expertise in football wasn't enough, what with some of the girls showing genuine promise. However, things took a turn for the better when Sonika Vijarnia, a professional female football coach, was appointed by the government of Haryana to train the girls of Alakhpura who had by then made quite a name for themselves.
Still only 21, Sharda believes that the start of qualifying campaigns for the IWL in every major state is the best thing to have happened in women's football in recent time. "We have been playing for close to 10 years now but for girls in Karnataka who have maybe just started playing professionally, this is a wonderful opportunity to showcase their ability and improve their level," she says confidently.
Quite the ambitious individual herself, Sharda wants to be a part of the Indian senior women's team that qualifies for the World Cup. While that is still quite a long shot, there is something else that peeves her no end. "I have been playing in the IWL for three years now and very rarely have I seen a defender like myself get the player of the match reward. That is almost always exclusively reserved for the attackers in the side which is something I want to change by performing at a consistent level in the years to come," she says begrudgingly.
A Lionel Messi fangirl, Sharda seems quite happy with how women's football in the country is shaping up at the moment. "There's a sense of camaraderie and unity amongst players which is good to see. Players coming from the northern states to play in the South or vice-versa never face any kind of discrimination which helps them in performing to the best of their ability," she explains with gratitude writ large on her face. Be that as it may, one has to remember that the women's game in India has a long way to go before it can be deemed to be at par with some of its Asian counterparts. For that to happen though, there needs to be continuous monitoring of the performances put up by upcoming players in competitions such as these which will eventually help in improving the overall quality of the IWL. For now, Sharda and others like her give us hope, and hope is never a bad thing to have.
(Image credits: Md. Arsalan)