So it’s all over the news now. Footballer Aditi Chauhan, who’s played for the Indian national team, has been selected to play football for a club in England. She’s joined West Ham United Ladies FC, a club that plays in the English Football Association’s (FA) Womens Premier League Southern Division, and is one of only two Indian women to have played for an English club!
Chauhan’s first match for West Ham was played on Sunday. Her team lost 0-5 to Coventry United Ladies FC. In a post-match interview, she sounded disappointed about the loss, but said that the only way for the team was to now move forward. We asked Chauhan what it’s been like, playing for an English club. “It was really special for me as I wanted to continue playing football here in London after my course,” she says. Chauhan, who started playing football at 15, was a part of the Indian U-19 team two years later, and in 2012 she was a part of the team that won the South Asian Football Federation Cup in Sri Lanka. Now, at 22, she’s currently studying for an MSc in Sports Management at Loughborough University in the UK, which she will soon be completing. “I am working on my dissertation, which is part of my Masters degree, but I have moved to London as I got an internship with Decathlon soon after my classes finished at the University.” She has to travel a “bit far” for training, she says, especially after work – Tuesdays and Thursdays are training days at West Ham Ladies – “but it’s all part of the hard work and effort to progress.”
Although several news headlines read that Chauhan had made history by becoming the first woman to play for an English club, it’s Delhi-born Tanvie Hans – who Chauhan considers a close friend – who was the first to do so when she played for Tottenham Hotspurs Ladies FC in London, an English Premier League club. She played two seasons with Tottenham reserves, and this season, she’s signed with Fulham Ladies FC. Unlike Chauhan, however, Hans has never played for the Indian national team.
This season, Chauhan tried out for Millwall Lionesses LFC, but technicalities got in the way. “Millwall is a Super League club, but I was told that FA rules do not allow me to play for a Super Leage club on a student visa.” The Super League 1 and 2 form the highest leagues of women’s football, and Millwall is a Super League 2 team. “So my goalkeeping coach, who trains in Millwall and West Ham, suggested that I try for West Ham which is a Premier League club (West Ham is a third division league team).” The rest, folks, is history.
It goes without saying that infrastructure and support for women footballers is vastly different in India and England – is there any aspect of English football that Chauhan would like to see emulated in India? “Although the league here is semi-professional, the players have a clear development path so they have something to look forward to, something to achieve and work hard for. There are not a lot of opportunities for women footballers in India, so a lot of them give up football,” she says. (For more about this, read what Chauhan’s former teammate Jyoti Burrett has to say here.)
So why does Chauhan – one of the better-known players for the Indian football team – stay on in the game? She’s been a sportsperson since she was very young, and has tried her hand at a number of sports including basketball, which she played at the youth state level. Why was football the sport she chose? It was her coach who convinced her to make the switch from basketball to being a football goalie. “I fell in love with the game and I just couldn’t get enough of it,” she says. This year, she followed the FIFA Women’s Football World Cup in Canada very closely, catching up on it every night that it was on. “I think Costa Rica did extremely well considering the background of the players and the conditions under which they trained for the world cup. [It was very] inspiring to learn about their team.”
“Even if I [was] really tired after a hard training session,” Chauhan says, “if you [gave] me a ball then I would still just juggle the ball or play with it. I kept achieving better things – that is what kept me motivated to continue with [football], although there were times when I wished I played some individual sport instead. Then, I might have been noticed by the media more, but I also think I would probably never have become as good a keeper as I am. And I love football, so it kept me motivated.”