Goal brings to you a story about a daughter-father duo who are leaving no stone unturned to succeed in football…
In Mumbai, it is not a common sight to find a girl knocking around a football in the streets.
But Harshika Jain, from Altamount Road, i one sousl who is so passionate about football that it is almost impossible for her to stay without a ball at her feet.
“I come back from practice, I relax but the ball remains glued to my feet,” said Jain to Goal, just after she got back home following a brace for Kenkre against India Rush FC in the IWL (Indian Women’s League) qualifiers.
She was introduced to football at the tender age of seven or eight by some of her friends. Following the Premier League and especially Manchester United was the new trend in the block back in those days when Alex Ferguson used to prowl in the technical area at the Old Trafford. But soon enough, more than watching football, she started playing the game with the boys of her society and subsequently at school.
“I was in the fourth grade when I saw the boys’ team was practising with the coach. But unless you were in the secondary section, you could not go for trials. And Mumbai, it is more difficult to find a girl’s team to practice with at such a young age. So when I got to the fifth grade, I asked my coach if I can come for the trials for the senior team which comprised of girls mainly from the higher standards.”
She was fortunate enough to get into the squad and in a very short while, she started plying her trade in MSSA (Mumbai School Sports Association) league. Apart from pursuing her academics, she was training sincerely under her school coach who is also a B-License holder.
“The time was ripe for me to take the next step. In 2018, I joined Kenkre when I was in the ninth grade. Nidhi Sharma was the coach at that time. She told that although I was good, I could not be in the team as the registration window was over.”
This spurred her to train more rigorously so that she could play in the top division of women’s football in India. And in 2019, she was named in the qualifiers for Kenkre.
“That was a life-changing moment. On the football field, everyone is equal. It does not matter where do you come from, or what background do you have. Your opposite number will try to beat you and you have to be better. That’s very simple.”
Jain scored a free-kick and put in decent performances in the qualifiers, which earned a spot in the squad for the finals in Bengaluru. And her father, Manish Jain, who has been a pillar of strength for her since the beginning made sure that he was in the garden city to cheer for daughter.
“I don’t miss any match. I even take her every day to practice. Stay with her and then drive her back home. I feel good doing that. I wake up early, because of her. It’s good for me as well,” stated the diamond merchant.
Previously, Manish would even drive her daughter to far-flung places but gradually felt that the road trips were sapping out her energy.
“I took her to Andhra Pradesh by car for her SGFI (School Games Federation of India) tournament. But soon I realised that a day’s rest was very important. It is not right to disturb the routine. It hampers the next three-four days.”
He is undoubtedly the biggest supporter of Kenkre. His voice roars in the empty stands and in one of the matches, his cheering became so unnerving that at the end of the match, a few players from the opposition came up to him and confided the same.
The women’s football landscape is still nascent in India. It is a work in progress and that does not deter Manish from allowing her daughter to pursue the sport.
“I just feel that I should let her play. She is sincere and it is my responsibility to back her dreams. She is giving her all and there are no regrets at the end of the day.”
India skipper Ashalata Devi had to sneak out through the backdoor of her house to play football. Her teammate in Kenkre and India national team player Soumya Guguloth was taunted for playing football by her family and friends. And there might be a million others whose dreams shatter early due to the lack of support from the family.
But thanks to Manish, that Harshika can pursue her dreams unhindered. May his tribe grow in numbers for the betterment of women’s football in India.