Seven women of varying ages, sizes and temperaments, are warming up on a playground this typically grey monsoon evening. They comprise the Women’s Football Team of the National Stock Exchange of India, and are practicing for an upcoming tournament with other all-woman corporate teams (there are about 10 in Mumbai alone!) in the last week of June.
Simone Gonsalves, the captain, has been a sportsperson right from her school days. “Football started for me when the NSE Men’s Football Team encouraged some of us women to form a team. We were initially hesitant. But after we won the first game, there was no looking back,” she says, her eyes keenly following the stance of a teammate dribbling the ball in a corner.
The women have grown through experience. “When I started out, I was unsure of even kicking the ball hard. But, I wanted to do my team proud. With my teammates support, I learnt to deal with the rough and tumble of the game. It became fun. Initially, my family laughed at the idea of me playing football, but they always supported me,” says Anuradha Shetty, the team goalie.
And they have taken their fair share of knocks. “I remember when Neha took a ball to her head and fell flat on her back. Heena, our defender takes on players from the opposing team irrespective of their size. She’s our wall!,” says Simone, triggering a bout of loud laughter.
“For us, it is about playing a good game. Simone always tells us that we must play fair, play clean and play together. A win is sweet only when we have earned it. I think for the boys it is more about winning the cup or medal at any cost. For me, the bond with my teammates is what pushes me to do better every time,” adds Pratiksha Pathak, the team's forward.
Yet, all is not fair in love and sport. “The boys get a cash prize when they win tournaments and the girls only get a cup,” mentions Anuradha. Her team nods their heads sombrely at the unfairness that seems to permeate the game at all levels. But that won't stop them playing. As Simone expertly guides her team through the warm-up exercises, I marvel at this happy bunch of shiny-eyed footballers with capable shoulders, who take both work and play in their stride. Game on girls!