The hurdles were many -- poverty, hostility of the community elders and even stalkers. Despite that, they they did not give up and continued to practice.
Nothing could stop them on the playground. They are now the national champions. They will remind you of the indomitable girls of Kalsindur, Mymensingh. These are the football girls of Palichora, Rangpur.
These girls became champions in the recently held JFA U-14 National Women's Football Championship.
Palichora is a village in Rangpur. There are 27 woman footballers in the village. Palichora Government Primary School became the runners-up in Bangamata Begum Fazilatunnesa Primary School Gold Cup Football Tournament in 2011. This drew the girls of the village towards football.
The girls would sneak into the playground as the seniors and moulvis of the area would say, "Why should girls play like boys wearing shorts?" The guardians were not very enthusiastic either.
Among the 11 girls from Palichora, one is on the national. This is Sirat Jahan. Sirat's mother, Lipy Begum, said, "I wanted to get my daughter married as she insisted on playing football. At that time, Harun Bhai (coach Harun Ar Rashid) said he would take her responsibility. I couldn't say no. Now my daughter is playing on the national team."
Another mother, Rozifa Begum, did not want her daughter Ishrat Jahan to play. "My daughter played football with the boys. I admonished her and shifted her to another school, but Milan Bhai and Harun Bhai brought her back."
The Palichora village is about 15 km from Rangpur. There are two schools side by side at one corner of the village--Palichora Government Primary School, Palichora MN High School. As school bell rang, girls in jerseys started to emerge. Shameema Akhter, Jharna Khatun among others sat under the goal post with their footballs and school bags. They put on their boots and braided their hair before starting practice.
Coach Milan Khan made prepartions in the meantime. The girls started practice as soon as the coach was ready. As the coach blew the whistle they started to play.
The Palichara girls celebrated their championship in the JFA U-14 Women’s Football in Dhaka on 19 July. Rangpur beat Mymensingh that day. Though it was Rangpur, each of the footballers came from Palichora village of Soddyopushkorini union of Sadar upazila. Shamima Akhter was the latest to be invited to the national team. Palichora is now a village of woman footballers.
The Palichora girl achieved a lot over the last eight years. They became the Bangamata School Football champions in 2012 and 2014. In 2015, they won the BRAC Kishori Football Tournament and in the preceding year they won 47th national school-madrasa tournament.
In 2015, they reached the KFC National Women’s Championship final and won the fair play trophy.
Ishrat Jahan, who was once frowned upon by her mother for playing football, now is an asset to her family. Her mother Rozifa Begum was at a loss when her husband died of cancer last year leaving four daughters. That was the year when Bangladesh became champion of the SAFF U-18 women’s football. Ishrat, along with her teammates, were awarded Tk one million by prime minister Sheikh Hasina. Ishrat spent Tk 300,000 on her mother’s treatment and kept the rest in the bank. Ishrat’s sister Nusrat Jahan too now plays on the national team.
Rozifa is proud of her daughters, “I feel so happy when they come home and help me with their own earnings! I have no son, but I have no regrets now. My daughters are my sons too.”
A group of footballers in the national team are from Kalsindur Primary School, Mymensingh. Former teacher of the school, Mofiz Uddin, contributed to that achievement. Coach Milan Khan, 26, too has been coaching them for free. He is a ‘B’ licensed coach of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). Earlier, Harun Ar Rashid coached them.
Milan Khan struggles to buy footballs, jerseys, shin guards, shoes, and other equipment for the girls. Sometimes he even sends the girls to play in different matches to earn money. The money is used on their practice. He regrets that the Rangpur district football association does not support them financially. The players were not even accorded any reception after winning the JFA Cup, he said.
The coach wants to set up an organisation by the name ‘Soddyopushkorini Unnayan Sangstha’ for the socio-economic development of women footballers. The gurdians of the footabllers would be members of the organisation. He wants to bear the financial cost of the girls's sports through this organisation in future.
“These girls have great potential. Many girls of the village have the capability to play on the national team. I dream that the 11 girls the of Palichora team will play in Bangladesh’s jersey someday.”
Perhaps the Palichora girls, too, have the same dream.
(Barishal staff correspondent Ariful Haque helped in writing this report.)
*This piece has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin.