Interview: Sabina Khatun
'I haven’t forgotten those who have helped me come this far'
The press conference at the BFF office had just ended. Many other journalists were waiting in the wings to have a one-on-one conversation with her. She also had to go somewhere with the coach. Sabina Khatun, the captain of the SAFF winning Bangladesh women’s football team, took some time out of her busy schedule to give an interview to Utpal Shuvro.
The celebrations that took place after you and your teammates returned were unprecedented in Bangladesh. You went to Nepal, won the trophy, became the highest goal-scorer and also were named the best player in the tournament and finally received a grand reception after returning home… A night later, how do you see the entire thing, does it feel somewhat like a dream?
For us, the women’s team, this championship trophy was a dream. Personally, I also dreamed of winning this championship trophy for the country. Speaking of yesterday (Wednesday), I wondered a few times if I was in a dream! I was moved realising how much love the people of this country have for football. The celebrations yesterday show just how much they love Bangladesh, football and especially the women footballers. This is definitely one of the best days of my career. In all my years, I don’t think I have ever seen so many people gathered in one place.
You were getting hints that something like this is going to happen when you were in Nepal. Especially, after the social media storm…
I thought something like this will happen, but not to this extent.
Bangladesh had many successes in age-level football, but due to there being too many young players in the national team, success wasn’t coming at the senior level. Were you becoming restless, as you are nearing 29 and you don’t have too much time left in your career…
My performance will dictate how much time I have left in my career.
That’s for sure. I said this because when the age-level teams were winning, the seniors were falling short. Even you must have realised that the team needed more time…
They are still quite young, they are yet to gain maturity. They have just entered the senior level from the age-level team. The president (Bangladesh Football Federation president Kazi Salahuddin) said he was hoping for a trophy in 2024-25, we won it two years prior. In the end, everything depends on the girls’ performance. As the performance was good, we won the trophy and women’s football is also marching ahead.
The BFF president wasn’t expecting to win the trophy this time, were you?
No! But I felt that something good will happen, we will reach the final.
Before this, we had never beaten India and Nepal. Not just in 1-2 matches, against one team (India), we played 10 matches and against the other (Nepal), we played eight games. Beating both of those teams and becoming champions is a huge deal…
The girls were confident. The sirs also had faith in the girls. Through a combination of everything, this came to be.
Speaking about your role in the side, you are the biggest star in the team in terms of performance, experience and everything else. You are also much older than them. Due to this age difference, are you like an elder sister to the other players alongside being their captain?
My relationship with them is very friendly.
We know that. But as most players in the team are around 19-20 years old, do you act sort of like a guardian for them in the team?
I try to perform my duties as a captain both on and off the field.
Outside of that, do you provide them with guidance in other matters in life? Because, you have been playing for many years, you have gone through many things…
There are problems and obstacles in everyone’s lives. They also have them. If anyone faces a problem, I support them. I also share my problems with them.
You have many feathers in your cap. You have been playing in the national team since 2009, and you have been captain since 2015. You have played in the Maldives and India. You have been the first in Bangladesh in many things, no one is anywhere near you in goal count. Even after achieving all of that, when you used to dream of achieving something really big, did winning the SAFF Championship come to mind?
Definitely, my dream was to win the SAFF Championship Trophy.
You have now fulfilled that dream. What next?
As the federation wants us to reach a better position in Asia, we want to prepare ourselves for that accordingly.
What is needed for that?
More practice, obviously. There is no alternative to practice. Practice, gym… The president sir said, they will provide us with the facilities we require to do well.
Do you have any specific requirements? From your years of experience, what are the problems you see that if fixed would help the women’s team become even better?
The girls are working hard. It has been 4-5 years since the federation provided us with a gym. I feel that the federation is trying. The biggest thing would be preparing ourselves more professionally.
In June last year’, you shed tears while receiving an award at the Bangladesh Sports Press Association on behalf of your childhood coach Akbar Ali. He suddenly passed away a day before the ceremony. After such an achievement, you must have remembered your first coach.
Definitely, I haven’t forgotten anyone who has helped me come this far. When a journalist comes to my house, I make sure Akbar sir’s wife is present there and gets to speak. Without him, I wouldn’t have made it this far. The person who has contributed the most to me becoming what I am today is Akbar sir.
Akbar Ali sir brought you to football. Are there any other incidents, without which you couldn’t have become a footballer…
I feel the biggest contributor in elevating a person to a big level is the person herself. If I didn’t have the willpower, nobody could’ve brought me this far. So, I always feel that I receive whatever I truly deserve.
What do you do in your leisure time?
I watch movies.
What kinds of movies?
I watch movies of every kind. I watch English, Hindi, Tamil and Malayalam movies. I watch Tamil movies the most.
What is your favourite movie?
*This interview appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashfaq-Ul-Alam Niloy