4 girls on their passion for football and why it keeps them hooked
Show your colours
Nerve-wracking endings, nail-biting penalties, last second goals and everything in between. Yes, it’s that time of the year again. The 21st FIFA World Cup 2018 is all set for kick off, this time in Russia and you can expect tonnes of exhilarating games and moments of heartbreak in what is the most anticipated tournament in the world. The past three finals have ended in a draw at full-time. Eight of the past 12 have been decided by goals in extra-time or a penalty shootout. You get the picture: it’s going to be a month-long rollercoaster ride.
While Brazil are slated to be favourites this year, there are 31 other teams, right from the deserts of Egypt to the Colombian islands stand in their way. And even though nothing is certain, the entire month is guaranteed to be a carnival of colours, goals, chants and celebrations for football fans across the globe. We spoke to four girls who share immense passion for the sport and are all set to don their favourite team’s colours to show their support.
Three years ago, the film production student watched her first league football match between Manchester city and Chelsea out of curiosity. 90 minutes later, The Sky Blues won the match and the sport found a new fan in Makani. She was fascinated by the each player’s skill and zeal on the field, and couldn’t seem to get enough. Soon, she was calling off Friday night plans with friends to watch EPL games, and even made her dream trip to Etihad Stadium in Manchester, UK. “I remember the day very clearly, City had won 18 consecutive matches and I was so pumped to see them on a roll,” she says. “The teams were tied at 1-1, but in the 95th minute into extra time, Rahim Sterling came out of nowhere and scored the draw breaker. The feeling of watching everyone in the stadium cheering for a common cause was the most vivid memory I’ve ever had.” And the goal scorer has been her favourite player ever since.
Now, she’s all geared up to watch him play for England for her first ever FIFA World Cup. “I’m rooting for the country to win, especially since my favourite players Sterling and John Stones are coming together with a completely different team to play for their country. I’m going to have no social life,” she says, with a broad grin.
Followers of Srishti Chhabria, who is one half of the fashion blog The Cister Co, rely on her for her style tips and skills as a wedding shopper. Little do they know that she has an equally keen interest in football as well. “It’s often considered okay for girls to go to the gym or for a fitness class, but there’s a popular perception that girls cannot be interested in sports or don’t understand well them enough to play them,” she says.
Her tryst with football started at age 9 when she saw her uncle celebrating while watching a football match at home. It sparked enough interest in her try out for her school team that year and start following the English Premier League. “I’ve been a Manchester United supporter ever since I started playing. Back in the days, the dream squad of Ronaldo, Scholes, Giggs and Rooney fetched them the title three years consecutively from 2006-2009,” she says, as she recalls watching the winning games with friends, complete with pizzas to celebrate. “Though we didn’t win the title this year, Paul Pogba’s comeback and the fact that we won the derby this year has given me a reason to keep cheering on. I can’t wait to watch him play for France in the World Cup!”
23-year-old Mishti Khatri has always been big on fitness. When she’s not on her daily 7k run or training at the gym, she’s working as a personal trainer with young athletes. But she’ll happily change her regimented schedule for a game of football – a sport she’s been partial to since the age of 10.
“I made it to my school team in the 5th grade; I would wake up at 5am everyday and head to Juhu beach to practice before rushing for class” she says. While nagging boys discredited her interest in the sport as an excuse to swoon over Cristiano Ronaldo’s good looks, it never deterred her from her passion. Over the years, the same boys went on to become her biggest cheerleaders as she captained the girl’s school football team, and even played in the Mumbai School Sports Association league for ten years.
“While I enjoy playing, nothing tops the feeling of watching the game with a group of close-knit friends and cheering on the players. Even though the FIFA World Cup matches are at ungodly hours because of the time difference with Russia, I’m going to stay up and watch Neymar Jr. slide through the defense with his bag of tricks,” she says.
After winning her first school football match, the 22-year-old model remembers eating an entire cake to celebrate her victory. “I tagged along with a few friends who were going to the school team try-outs. When I watched them play, I decided to give a try too but I was so terrible I obviously didn’t get selected that year,” she says. That day she went back home and looked up the best footballers. “This was in 2006 so the results showed Ricardo Kaka, Ronaldinho and Steven Gerrard. I watched their videos till I was ready to tryout again.”
Later that year, she went on to get selected as a left back defender for her school team and 3 years on, she was into the big state-level leagues college. “I think I attended most of my lectures in my sports kit and with my studs on.” And she still enjoys geeking out on football trivia and facts: “Ronaldo sprints at an average top speed of 33 times of the average footballer, and he’s one of the only footballers with a preternatural field of vision enable him to time diagonal runs to get past defenses,” she says with a smile, talking about her favourite player who captains the Portuguese national team.
So what’s her most memorable moment? “It would have to be his killer bicycle kick versus Juventus this year. I think it broke the internet for days after and was made into some hilarious memes,” she says. But there was also a personal one last year in October. “I volunteered for FIFA U17 World Cup that was held in India, I witnessed the most magical moment. I was standing at the front gate of the stadium, and I saw every single person in the crowd stand up for a Mexican wave and cheer on the newcomers. Then, they turned on their cell phone torches and lit up the whole stadium- it was surreal!”
It’s like they say, football isn’t just a sport; it’s a religion. A game of 90 minutes is all it takes for you to get hooked — on to a player or on to a team — and cheer for them with all your heart. Whether you’re a newbie who’s found a favourite country to root for or a loyalist to a team, click here to show your support by wearing their colours.
Photographs: Manasi Sawant
Hair and make-up: Mitesh Rajani
Styled by: Divya Gursahani