The AIFF Women’s Player of the Year Sanju Yadav nurtured her footballing skills under Vijarniya and Dass…
It is six in the morning. The village of Alakhpura is slowly waking up from its slumber. Smoke from the chullahs has begun to puff out from a few households while a few women are seen making dung cakes outside the house.
While strolling down the street towards the Senior Secondary School you will come across young girls in sports gears jogging past you. The number only increases as you go closer to the school.
As you reach the playground, the numbers increase exponentially and that means you have reached the Alakhpura Football academy. Around 200 girls train every day in this academy under the watchful eyes of Sonika Vijarnia, the coach appointed by the Haryana Government for the upliftment of women’s football in the village.
It all started in 2006 when Gordhan Dass joined the co-educational secondary school as the physical instructor. A trained Kabaddi player himself, he started building a men’s kabaddi team. Soon the girls wanted to join but Dass was reluctant.
Frustrated by their persistence, he threw towards them a ragged football and then things changed forever.
Dass started training the band of 20-25 girls regularly from 2008 and within a couple of years, they were stealing the limelight with impressive performances on the pitch.
In 2014, the Haryana government took notice and they sent Vijarnia to further help the kids.
“We had only two balls as equipment. There was only one ground. When I started I did not set any target. We just worked hard. From sunrise to sunset we spent time on the playground. We just believed in ourselves and success followed. We won the Bronze medal in the senior National Games in 2015. After that, we did not have to look back,” stated Vijarnia to Goal.
Laurels followed one after another. They won the Subroto Cup in 2014 and 2016 and the recent exploits of Haryana in the Khelo India games was powered by this very same academy.
“Haryana is one of the most successful states in Khelo India and we have contributed immensely. The state has won gold in U17 U19 U14 Khelo India and in every team, there are eight to nine girls from the Alakhpura academy.”
The Haryana government offers cash prizes to the winners and also job opportunities through the sports quota for bright athletes. This has brought along a change in the outlook of the villagers and they now view sports as a passport to progress in life.
“Take, for example, Sanju. She comes from a weak financial background but now she has built a pucca (Concrete) house and is doing well. She also has a job with the Railways. The villagers are seeing this and they are getting inspired.”
Under Vijarnia, this team also participated in the inaugural edition of the Indian Women’s League (IWL) and they reached the semi-finals until they were knocked out by Manipur Police. Sanju Yadav, the winner of AIFF (All India Football Federation) Women’s Player of the Year, was in fine form in the preliminary rounds and scored 11 times to top the goal-scoring charts.
“It was a wonderful achievement. But after that, the players started getting jobs in various government offices under sports quota. So they have to play for those teams now. From those teams, they only release players to teams who can pay the girls handsomely.”
The coach believes that since she is a woman, the villagers trust her even more and hence even girls who are below six years are coming to train.
“Gordhan ji had to face a lot of problems to get girls enrolled in the academy. Compared to him, I had fewer troubles. This is because I am a woman. Moreover, I am appointed by the Haryana government. So when the villagers saw that there is a female coach, they felt comfortable and started sending their girls without hesitation.”
Vijarnia spends her whole day on the field with the girls. She calls herself a ‘desi‘ coach who just knows that working hard will definitely reap results.
“I do not know how many hours I spend on the field. I reach there early in the morning and several batches of girls come and I train them. There is only one coach and so many girls. So I have to work hard. In the morning, we focus on fitness and in the afternoon, we do training with the ball. No technology, nothing. Simple methods that focus on the basics of each player.
“But I must say that my family supports me a lot. My mother-in-law looks after the house and without her support, it would not have been possible for me to concentrate on my girls. She even cooks my food. Although I have a small daughter who is just 11 months old, I don’t take holidays.”
Once the government allowed training sessions to take place, she jumped on the opportunity and resumed classes. She doesn’t have any plans to pursue a full-time professional coaching course. She fears that even if she leaves for a day, the girls will suffer.
“To do a course, I have to leave Alakhpura and that is not possible. Some of my girls have gone ahead and have done coaching or a referee course but I cannot do.
“I am happy with what I have. I am an employee of the Haryana government and I am content with that. My only target is to make more girls capable and economically independent through football,” signed off the self-styled desi coach rushing for another session as the girls wait patiently for their madam-ji.