Dalima Chhibber believes India can make it big
New Delhi: Women’s football in India had been sneaking up the attention radar of Indians in the past few years, but only gradually.
Quite a few turned their heads in its direction in the last week of March when a video of a free-kick went viral on the internet. In the video, Dalima Chhibber, all of 21 years, took six paces before hitting the sweet spot of the ball that sent it flying over the wall who could helplessly watch it sail into the right corner of the goalpost.
Stuff of dreams and exactly the content that sends social media into a frenzy, just as it did on this occasion as well.
A glimpse of my goal scored from a freekick yesterday against Nepal in the final match of the SAFF Championship, 2019.— Dalima Chhibber (@DalimaChhibber) March 23, 2019
.#Saffchampionship #ShePower #IndianFootball #Champions pic.twitter.com/6JehH0UAlb
“The attention it got was incredible. My father was super proud of me. He said he jumped off the couch out of joy and had happy tears watching it," Chhibber says in looking back at the response her free-kick received.
The elation, however, is not only of the video going viral for Chhibber.
“Since I started playing football, I have seen how not a lot of attention is paid to it. I grew up playing football with boys because not a lot of girls were keen to play the sport. People kept telling me how long will I persist with football in India where it’s not that popular. With that video getting so much popularity, it was an incredible feeling to see all my hard work paying off.”
This is not the first time though that Chhibber has got people’s jaws to drop with her skills.
She explains, “Even last year when I was playing for India, I scored a 40-yard goal. That video also received a lot of attention but not as much as this one did. The popularity of this particular clip tells that recognition is now finally coming women’s football way.”
For both those freak goals, Chhibber credits her father, Om Chhibber, who has been a major figure in her rise.
“My father has been my coach and he always emphasised on the need of being able to score from any distance and any angles. He always concentrated on the shooting part, especially long rangers.”
But her father, who was an athlete himself, may not have decided to turn his daughter into the next football sensation had it not been for a moment of serendipity.
A young Chhibber was set to follow her father’s footsteps into athletics and her tryst with football was limited to playing it occasionally with the boys who her father coached in his academy.
When she was 11, coaches from the Liverpool Foundation conducted a workshop in New Delhi. Chhibber and her brother were taken to the camp by their football loving dad.
Chhibber remembers: “On reaching there, we found out that we were the only kids among those who had come for the workshop. We were just running here and there when one of the coaches held my hand and told my father that here is a talent that you should groom properly. I still have a photo of that moment.”
And soon the little girl took her first step towards football stardom when she got selected for the Delhi U-19 team at the age of 11.
Representing Gokulam Kerala FC in the third edition of the Indian Women’s League, Chhibber says her team starts as a strong contender in the league, which she credits for giving a fillip to Women’s football in the country.
“With 12 teams this time around, the competition is going to be hard. But it’s great for Women’s football in the country as more players will be getting to perform on this stage.”
The league, in her opinion, has grown vastly - a sign of which is more people filling up the stands and more numbers watching the action online.
Being one of the seven players who played for the national side and will be seen in Gokulam colors in the league, Chhibber will be crucial to her team’s chances of winning the title for the first time.
The central midfielder is well aware of the challenges for women’s football in the country but remains hopeful.
“We are moving in the right direction. There are more exposure trips happening which are yielding positive results. The awareness and popularity of the game is also on the rise. With the kind of infrastructure that’s being put in place, I feel we should aim to be among the top five teams in Asia in the next five years.”
She places hopes on the 2020 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in India to encourage more young girls to pick up the sport.
Chhibber says “A platform like the U-17 Women’s World Cup will give a lot of parents belief and encouragement that girls can also make a professional career out of the sport, something they are not ready to believe easily at this point.”
When not playing, the Ronaldinho fan likes to spend her time reading.
“I just completed my graduation in psychology and plan to pursue my Masters degree in sports psychology,” she says.
Remember to start the week with a smile and may your day and week ahead be as bright as your smile. 😁 pic.twitter.com/QYfOZ5jJG7— Dalima Chhibber (@DalimaChhibber) April 22, 2019
Talking about her social media presence, she says she considers it quite important because it allows her to reach and communicate with a large amount of people out there.
“Today, the number of people on social media is far more than those who read newspapers. So, for me, someone who really wants to take Women’s football ahead in this country, it’s a faster way of reaching people and making them aware of the sport and getting recognised,” she explains.