Lilly Marie Thomas is breaking gender stereotypes through football
Having overcome a lot of adversity, Lilly Mary Thomas is smashing every possible stereotype with a ball at her feet.
In India, there are a number of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that work with children who come from underprivileged children and teach them life skills. But when it comes to the holistic development of kids from less fortunate backgrounds, very few match up to the level of Shanti Bhavan. Based out of Bangalore, the organisation runs a pre-K-12 residential school in Baliganapalli, Tamil Nadu, and is focused on the all-round development of children through education, sports and other co-curricular activities. Lilly Mary Thomas is one of those who has come through the organisation's roster and is now making a name for herself in Bangalore's footballing circuit.
The Kickstart FC midfielder is used to doing things outside of her comfort zone. Even when she was a little kid, she would play football with boys her age and even slightly older than her. Having started off as a goalkeeper due to that being the only position available in her immediate playing circle, she is now the midfield schemer for Kickstart who currently lead the Karnataka Women's Super Division League, also known as the Karnataka Women's League (KWL).
Although her team might be on the cusp of qualifying for the Indian Women's League (IWL), the 27-year-old considers herself fortunate to just be able to play football, something she is extremely passionate about. It hasn't been an easy ride though. Coming from a very orthodox family, wearing shorts and playing with boys was always a strict no-no for her while growing up. Another major hurdle was the peer pressure that is associated with playing a supposedly 'manly' sport. As a result, Lilly had to endure a lot of taunts regarding her lack of 'femininity' which eventually made her retreat into a shell.
That is where football has been a lifesaver for her. On the field, she believes she is at her confident best and the freedom that comes with playing the game is what keeps her passion alive. "Growing up I used to play a lot of sports actually. But because people used to say that football is a sport only for boys, it made me even more determined to prove this was not the case" she replies when asked about why she chose football as her career.
Although she was never trained professionally, Lilly has now reached a level where she can hold her own against those who have and that is something she takes great pride in. Employed with Ernst & Young for the past five years, she is currently working as an advanced analyst for the firm whom she credits for supporting her footballing journey. "They have always given me the flexibility to juggle my work and footballing commitments. I am actually an ambassador for the company so they also sponsor all my events," she says gleefully.
A state-level player, a marathon runner, a D-license certificate holder in football coaching, Lilly has her feet firmly planted in a lot of boats. All of these accomplishments have helped her sustain herself financially and eventually become more than just another employee for the company. This is also the reason why, after initially leaving her job to pursue coaching, she was able to get her job back with the well-known professional services network.
About her journey with Kickstart, Lilly has only good things to say. "I have played for other clubs like Indian Football Factory but what sets Kickstart apart from the rest is the focus on continuous improvement. We are pushed beyond our limits, both at an individual level and as a team, and that has enabled us to perform well in domestic competitions and surpass the expectations that even we had from ourselves," she says with obvious gratitude.
As far as qualification for the IWL is concerned, the Kickstart FC midfield schemer, who played in the IWL last season too, believes that if they make it to the premier women's competition in the country, they will have to further elevate the standard of their game. "The IWL will be a different level altogether because it has got a lot of professional players whose skill-set is way higher than the players participating in the KWL. And that is despite this season's KWL being of much greater quality than the last few years. Like always, the IWL is undoubtedly going to be a very healthy competition between the best teams from all over the country and will offer players like us a platform to show what we are capable of," Lilly exclaims with palpable enthusiasm writ large on her face as she rejoins her mates in the dugout.
(Image credits: Md. Arsalan)