Women's Day Special : The Story of Girijadevi Desai
Football coaching is considered to be a male bastion. We might’ve seen Maria Rebello officiating football matches in I-League Second Division or Kanika Barman in Kolkata Premier Division Football League, but other than Chitra Gangadharan coaching a team which play A Division in Bangalore, you won’t find anyone coaching a men’s football team.
Meet Girijadevi Desai, more popular as Girija, assistant coach of Santa Cruz Club of Cavelossim, a team from Goa Professional League.
What got her going in football coaching?
A ligament injury in 2002 curtailed Girija’s career as a player. She then focused into academics and took up teaching as a profession, totally away from the football field for almost a decade.
It was just few years’ back she started reconnecting with people from football background with help from her mentor-guide Darryl D'souza (Goa Football Development Council), friend Anju Turambekar (AIFF), and Severino Fernandes, Girija’s coach during her playing days.
As she thoughtfully puts, “These three exceptional individuals are the ones because of whom I started my coaching career. They helped me to come back to where I belong, started realizing that I can definitely give back to the society and to this footballing world!”
Also, she fondly remembers the support extended by the management of Vidya Vikas Mandal, Goa and Mr. Alvaro Abranches, Principal of RM Salgaocar Higher Secondary School.
Though Girija comes from the football crazy state Goa, her village school never had a girl’s football team.
“Since childhood I used to enjoy football - the way the ball rolls and we run behind the ball. I would just go crazy at the sight when anyone played.” admits the Cuncolim-born girl.
Girija started playing football with boys in her village, she further adds up, “Every time I played, the fun of running with the ball, beating opponents, and shooting the ball to the goal would drive me crazy. I will happily return home and eagerly wait for next day’s game. The boys from my village, with whom I grew up playing football always encouraged me. Not to forget my family and extended family! ”
Playing football at competitive level, Girija represented her school. In an Under-19 tournament finals played at the Fatorda Stadium, she got the Best Player award from the hand of legendary footballer from Portugal, star of 1966 World Cup Football, Eusébio!
Playing in Green and Maroon colors
Meanwhile Mohun Bagan, the Kolkata giant selected Girija from Goa. She gleefully recollects, “I was in the limelight of my carrier at that time, I was one of the few out-stationed players who was contracted to play for Mohun Bagan!”
In Mohun Bagan, she played with some extremely talented players having their own quality, tries recalling them - Rinku Ghosh, Nasoba Alam, Anakshi, Kalpana, Sudipta Dash, Mamata Samant, Anu, Madhu Kumari, and Swati.
Though her stay in Kolkata lasted for only one season, she liked everything about the city –football environment and people with helpful and caring nature. “It was a privilege to play for a professional club. They took good care of the players, transport, diet, medical, and so on. The club Tent, yes, the tent was a complete home to us! The true feeling of a professional.”
“The inaugural Indian Women's League (IWL), which started with six teams is a great initiative.” Reckons Girija, she further adds, “Seems like these young footballers have a future in women’s football now. Believe this was the most awaited wish that has come true. There was a time we used to move on to other states just because we would get a chance to play football. What mattered to us was we should get to play. This league will motivate every Indian women player, now they will know that it's worth spending time in playing football.
Girija Devi believes the current state of Indian Football is on rise. The game is encouraged almost everywhere and what is needed is development, opportunities, and exposure of women footballers, which will help to create a wider pool.
“It would have been great if I-League clubs were a part of the IWL. Since the clubs already have a structure in place with decent fan base, it will only help to rise women football through such clubs.” sums Girija.