From farm to football field

From farm to football field

From a farm girl in a small north Indian village, she's now setting footballing goals as an outstanding grassroots educator, set to score unprecedented sporting goals for India.

Not only that, Ms Anju Turambekar, 26, has broken traditional village norms to go for her academic goals too.

Armed with a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Bachelor of Physical Education, she has even attended overseas footballing courses in Holland, England and the US and hopes one day to coach the Indian women's team.

"The love for football is in my heart. I live and breathe football. I wholeheartedly thank God for firing me up to learn and explore myself. Now, I've worked hard, academically and sportingly, and through football, I hope to look at futuristic ways to coach players, especially the younger generation, who're the genuine future of Indian football," she tells tabla!.

She struggled while working seven days a week at her family's farm with her two sisters and brother in Bekanal in the Kolhapur district of Maharashtra state, but football has become her passport to a better life.

She is now a grassroots instructor with the All-India Football Federation (AIFF), based in New Delhi, and she has travelled the length and breadth of the Indian sub-continent, training hundreds of teens in Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat in the north to Nilgiris and Coimbatore in the south.

She is determined to make sure that no young footballer, regardless of sex or caste, will ever face her discriminatory rural past.

Ms Turambekar recalls, with tears welling in her eyes, how even kicking a football was taboo in her farmland village, how her farmer father cursed and beat her when he heard of her footballing interests, and how as a teenager she ran away from home to represent the Maharashtra state team as captain in the senior and junior nationals, organised by AIFF.

"I had to struggle a lot when I started playing football. I had no one to support and guide me. I had a very hard time convincing my parents to allow me to play football but it was my passion for the game that helped me overcome all the obstacles. Today, I feel proud that I never gave up on my dream," she says.

Thanks to her footballing skills, she went on to represent Pune University in the All-India University tournament. Knowing that higher education was her only ticket to a successful future, she graduated with a first-class arts degree from Pune University in 2011 and a first-class physical education degree from Solapur University in 2012.

Her long-term potential as a role model caught the eye of AIFF and, over the past year, she has gone for overseas courses in England, Holland and the US.

She says: "Through excellent AIFF mentorship in recent months, I've been able to garner the relevant coaching experience to take more steps to develop myself. There's so much to learn in upgrading my coaching skills to teach the younger generation of Indians and in going overseas to the 'land of football' (England) to be a role model in carrying the Indian flag.

"Football is a very fast-evolving sport, technical and tactical knowledge change and educating the future players in skills of fitness, tactics, performance, laws of the game, sports science and even psychology have changed. I hope to learn these modern trends and adapt them the best way possible when I return to India."

She is a beacon of hope, according to former AIFF board member Sukhvinder Singh, who runs India's leading football consultancy, Libero Sports India.

He says: "Anju signifies the young football professional who is highly confident of the development of the sport in India. She also represents the thousands of enterprising coaches and stakeholders from grassroots football who want to bring a positive change in a country with huge challenges but immense potential."

Mr Agnelo Fernandes, coach of Ms Turambekar's first team, Sea View Football Team, says he has a lot of respect for her "never-say-die attitude".

He adds: "Anju is a very good player and I have utmost respect for her. Since she joined Sea View from Bodyline FC, she has gelled very well with the players. She has a great understanding of the game."

Ms Turambekar, who idolises Indian football heroes Baichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri, is also inspired by the recent success of the inaugural Indian Football League which has given the sport a "real shot in the leg".

In Ms Turambekar, India has found a footballing role model, who uses her personal sacrifices to fire up the younger generation that the sky's the limit, if you play to your best personal attributes.

She poignantly ends the interview: "Sports gave me a dream-come-true opportunity to learn and feel the real meaning of 'football for all'. It has taught me that it is important to provide everyone, from children to adults, with opportunities to enjoy football for a better life. "Football can make people happy. This is one of the most important things I learnt… and I want to share this forever."

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