On the occasion of the International Women’s Day, we take a look at one of the promising names in the Indian women’s football team
Soumya Guguloth hails from the small village of Kunepally of Raljal Mandal in the Nizamabad district of Telangana. The region which once used to be a powerhouse of Indian football in the 1950s and 60s now seldom produces any special talent.
Needless to say that the footballing culture has withered away and it came as no surprise when a young girl was frowned upon when she started practising with boys due to the lack of girls in her bid to pursue the sport. Her father Gopi Guguloth was also apprehensive about the choice of her sport.
“Yeh ladkiyo ki game nehi hai. Kya kar legi khel ke? (It is not a sport for girls. What will you do playing it?),” the question was flung on her face on several occasions.
In spite of several rebukes, she did not give up.
” I used to attend the training sessions in my local ground, without their knowledge. After school, I would say that I am going to a friend’s house and then I would instead go on and train. I was training with senior girls. But since my family didn’t know I could not participate in any competition,” reminisced Soumya to Goal.
However, there was one person who had an eye for talent and persuaded a young Soumya not to give up on her dreams. The dream of putting on the national jersey and playing for India.
“My physical education teacher Nataraj Sir, believed in me. Previously I used to be in athletics running in 200m, 400m, in urban meets and school tournaments. When my coach saw that I have pace, he asked me to start playing football.”
Within a brief period, she progressed by leaps and bounds and made it to the U-14 India squad that left for Nepal to participate in the Asian Football Confederation (South and Central) tournament at Dasarath Stadium in Kathmandu in 2015.
Her first international tour became a memorable one not because of the exploits on the field but for something that is not even remotely related to football.
“The Nepal earthquake happened. I thought I would give up football. I even told my parents that I would not play football anymore. I was supposed to play in the starting XI for the third-place match. The earthquake ruined it all,” recounted the striker with a tinge of disgust.
However, on her next international trip, she made sure that it became special for all the right reasons.
“I went with the India U16 team to play in China in the qualifiers of the AFC U16 Championship. I scored a hat-trick against Malaysia and also became the top-scorer for India with four goals. This performance somehow made up for my earlier disappointment in Nepal.”
Soumya continued to soar as she was named the skipper of the India U17 team that departed to participate in the BRICS tournament in South Africa.
“I followed closely how the Chinese played and trained. I used to watch their skill and pace. They were following a strict diet from such a young age. But that hardly happened in India,” opined the player.
Soumya now plies her trade in Kenkre FC and helped her side reach the IWL (Indian Women’s League) semifinals. She was an instrumental figure in the squad and scored seven to propel her team to the semi-finals against KRYPHSA where they lost 3-1.
But her sojourn off the pitch in Mumbai is more remarkable.
“I stay in a rented room in Dadar. Every morning I have to go to Church Gate via local train and then I walk to the field. It becomes pretty late when I return home. After getting I cook my own meal and other household chores. So by four when I have lunch, I am completely drained. Mumbai ghoomne ka takat nehi rehta (There’s no energy left to roam around in Mumbai),” explained the player.
Nevertheless, she was rewarded for her hard work when she got called up for the national camp in late 2020 as the squad was preparing to tour Turkey. In the first match against Serbia she fulfilled her dream to play for the Indian national team, but unfortunately got injured and had to be subbed at the half-hour mark.
“The dream got fulfilled. But the injury was disappointing. The focus remains to get fit and make it to the final squad of the AFC Asian Cup 2022.”
Soumya got a rousing welcome in her district of Nizamabad when she returned from South Africa (BRICS football tournament in 2018). The same people who once mocked her for playing football had gathered in hundreds just to get a glimpse of their local prodigy. One can only imagine the kind of reception that will be greeting her if she manages to score for India at the continental stage.