The state’s ball girls have had the opportunity in several tournaments such as the I-League, Gold Cup and Super Cup.
Great names from around the world of football like Raul Gonzalez, Wesley Sneijder or Carlos Tevez have one thing in common – they have been ball boys for their childhood clubs. Much like them, there are four young girls in the Rising Student Club from Odisha, who have done the same as recently as earlier this year, and are now playing in the top division.
Satyavati Khadia, Sradhanjali Panda, Puja Sahu and Jasoda Munda have don’t duty as ball girls, and in the process watched top-level matches of the Hero I-League, the Hero Gold Cup and the Hero Super Cup “from close” at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, before coming to the Hero Indian Women’s League in Ludhiana.
“It was a really good experience to watch those matches from side-lines. We were so lucky. I got to learn a lot from these games,” said midfielder Satyavati Khadia. “Now that we are playing in Hero IWL, it’s a completely different feeling. Before we were ball girls for Hero I-League games. But now we are playing in a tournament of the same category for women.”
RSC Head Coach Sukhwinder Singh believes that these girls now have the opportunity to go and fulfil their dreams in the Hero IWL.
“All ball boys or girls have a dream of playing on the pitch, or playing for the country one day. They do tend to draw inspiration from these matches. Now that these girls have got the chance, they need to grab it with both hands. After all, there are scouts who are monitoring the matches,” said Sukhwinder. “They were ball girls earlier. Now they aim to turn into ball players.”
Jasoda Munda, who plays as a forward, herself drew a lot of inspiration from working as a ball girl at the Hero Gold Cup earlier this year, when the Indian National team faced off against other International teams like Myanmar, Iran and Nepal.
“The good thing is we got to pick up a lot of things from the India Internationals. How they conduct themselves on and off the pitch; the manner in which they play; how they behave in situations, and their discipline – all of it was an eye-opener,” said Jasoda. “These are things that will obviously go on to help us in the long run.”
One starry-eyed moment for these girls was the day when they faced off against the very same women whom they had seen playing for India at the Hero Gold Cup. India Internationals like Dalima Chhibber, Manisha, Anju Tamang, Sanju, Poli Koley all ply their trade at Gokulam Kerala FC, who had faced off against Rising Student Club in their first game.
“They had so many India Internationals in their team. It was really motivating to play against them. We had seen these same didis from the sidelines during the Hero Gold Cup,” said defender Sradhanjali. “It really motivates us to work harder, because we also want to play for India.”
Goalkeeper Puja Sahu even had a star struck moment, when Poli Koley walked up to her after the match, and recognised her.
“I spoke to Poli di (Koley) after the match against Gokulam. She recognised us from the Hero Gold Cup, and asked us about where we are from and how we are doing. It was so nice to talk,” she stated.
While these girls had their star-struck moments when they were playing against the India Internationals, they have been training with one National Team player since they were kids – Jabamani Tudu.
“We are really proud of Jaba. We’ve been training with her since we were kids, and now she is playing for the country,” Stayavati quipped. “Whenever she comes to Bhubaneswar she always gives us different tips.”