The 14-year-old Abida is one of the most spirited forwards in the football squad of the Muslim Women’s Association (MWA) School.
On the turf, she is fiery, motivated and a big advantage for the squad in more than 25 games they have played in a period of 3 years.
“Her family wouldn’t appreciate her being known for playing a sport,” says Thamimunissa Jabbar, lovingly recognized as ‘Thamim’, the 35-year-old football trainer from the city has become the supporter for scores of girls such as Abida, who belongs to traditional Muslim families but find individuality and liberty in football.
‘Playing with hijab and full pants in no way deters their performance on the field’.
For this reason, Thamim, who also works as the PT coach at MWA School, personally guarantees that the girls wrap up practice in time for class, reach home before sunset, outshine in examinations and can enjoy the game with the hijab on.
“For most families opposed to girls playing sports, the hijab is one of the contentious issues,” said Thamim.
For her, whose uncle is an imaum, it has taken Thamim over a dozen rounds of talks with her family members to persuade them of the girl’s brilliant ability and what it could do for her.
The coach added, “I understand this better than anyone else, because when I was striving to make a career out of football, my struggle was two-fold: to make it to the school team and make my family understand. Now, there’s nothing more validating for me than making this transition smoother for young girls from similar backgrounds.”
Thamim was a pupil in Chengelpet during the nineties when she chanced upon her first football. In less than 2 years, she went on to help her team win a state-level match in Kanchipuram.
“If it wasn’t for my coach, who assured my family that I had a promising future in this game, my years after class X would have been spent sitting at home waiting to get married the moment I turned 18,” she says.
Her perseverance to keep playing brought one conquest after the other, like the 1999 state contest in Ooty, accompanying which local newspapers gave her the name, ‘Lady Baichung Bhutia’.
“My father had tears in his eyes when he read these reports and he said he was glad I had stood my ground. This inspired me to become a coach and mentor these girls.”