Twenty-one-year-old Soumya Guguloth and twenty-three-year-old Jyoti Chouhan entered one of the most significant trials of their professional careers earlier this month. The duo were among the twelve participants in the Women In Sports tryouts in Kolkata. Coaches from five foreign clubs (Rangers WFC, Marbella FC, ŽNK Dinamo Zagreb, Western Sydney Wanderers FC, and Melbourne Victory FC) instructed, analysed, and trained the players in the hopes of being picked and granted a professional contract at the trials.
Soumya Guguloth and Jyoti Chouhan, after playing two friendly matches against local men’s teams, were signed by ŽNK Dinamo for pre-season and more extended tryouts. The team has offered them season contracts, making them the first two Indian women to play professional football in Europe.
In a country where football is loved, but not appreciated professionally, Guguloth and Chouhan’s journey considering they come from rural India where opportunities are slim. They persisted, regardless.
In an interview with SheThePeople.TV, Soumya Guguloth and Jyoti Chouhan discuss their football journeys, challenges, signing a deal with the Croatian football club ŽNK Dinamo Zagreb, and why women in football deserve better.
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Challenges in pursuing football professionally
Soumya Guguloth, who comes from the village of Kunepally in Telanga, recently made her first international goal at the SAFF Women’s Championship 2022 in Kathmandu while playing for the Indian national team. While Guguloth holds an exceptional record in the country, she awaited a chance to perform well internationally, and her first goal against Pakistan made it possible for her. “It made me emotional, I couldn’t hold back my tears when the national anthem was playing. It’s always an honour to represent your country, and I am grateful for this opportunity,” she said.
Soumya Guguloth’s Story
Guguloth’s journey from making it to the national team, to now signing a one-year contract at the Croatian club hasn’t been easy like most female athletes in India. “It was far from easy. I had to lie to the family that I was playing till I was selected for the national team.” In a country where football isn’t a very likeable sport to pursue professionally even for men, leave alone women, Guguloth’s family took time to accept her interest in the game, but once she proved her ability, they vouched for her and have had her back ever since. “Once I was selected for nationals, they all supported me and have always encouraged me to continue and follow my dreams. There were not too many opportunities, however, I kept taking up every chance I got to play and that kept me focused.”
Jyoti Chouhan’s Story
Guguloth’s Gokulum Kerala teammate, Jyoti Chouhan’s journey hasn’t been a cakewalk either. Chouhan’s journey from a girl who once practised barefoot because she couldn’t afford shoes, to now making it to Europe as a representative of an international club is inspirational like no other. Having lost her father at an early age, Chouhan’s mother, a daily wage labourer, put all her efforts to make ends meet. However, she never stopped her girls to play football. Chouhan went on to first train under a coach, Shailendra Pal, who only taught men’s teams back then. Pal encouraged her further, and several girls followed suit looking at her. Chouhan recalls the time when she first got trainers after being selected for a club. “I can’t tell you how happy I was when I saw those trainers I always dreamt of that I could wear and play with. That meant so much to me, and still means to me the most today looking back at my journey,” she shared. Chouhan has represented her state Madhya Pradesh in several national games and was eventually signed by Gokulum Kerala club, one of the country’s best football teams.
The plight of women’s football and sports in the country
It is no news that women athletes in India are still struggling to be recognised. If we talk about football, the situation is much worse. When we asked the two players what their expectations are from the respective authorities and the viewers of the game in making football better and giving it the identity it deserves in India, Chouhan replied, “We definitely want more support and recognition. More matches will be a good start because we’ll have more time to play, and more representation on the state and national levels. We also expect better grounds and more opportunities across the country for budding talent.”
“Fans need to support us and come out to watch our games just like they do for men’s football.
Guguloth believes fans, too, can play a crucial role in supporting the game. “Fans need to support and come out to watch our games as they do for men’s football. We are looking for more leagues and opportunities to play throughout the year,” said Guguloth. The Indian player, who has now been part of the national squad for a few years, believes basics like access to better food, gym and fitness regimes can play a significant role in helping players achieve a better sporting capability. More chances to play outside the country to help learn new skills would help a big deal, she added.
“We’ll do everything in our power to bring glory to our nation, opening doors for more women footballers in the game.” – Jyoti Chouhan
Talking about their experience of practising for a week in Croatia, the two recalled how the magnitude of the importance of the sport there made their practice sessions even more fulfilled. “The level of practice there is very high, the way they practise is very different, and quite inspiring actually,” recalled Chouhan. The two participated in a friendly match at the club and learned new tricks of the game. “That one week of learning is something I value a lot, it makes me more excited to see what will entail during our one play while representing the ŽNK Dinamo Zagreb club,” shared Guguloth.
The two have not only been roommates and teammates at the Gokulum Kerala Club, but they’ve also been each other’s biggest allies. Their excitement, therefore, doubled when we asked them about their journey going forward. “You tend to feel less alone when you have someone from your country with you. Jyoti’s presence in the team will only boost my conference, and we’ll do everything in our power to bring more glory to our nation, pending doors for more women footballers in the game,” said Guguloth.
“I think as teammates, it’s significant to support one another. And we do that selflessly in our women’s football camps in India. There are things we learn from each other, and having had a good history together, playing in a foreign land will make us stronger,” said Chouhan.
“It can be difficult to pursue your dream when you’re not supported by your loved ones. But if you truly want it, and you can work towards it, please go ahead, you’ll never regret it.” – Soumya Guguloth
The two players had some valuable advice to share with aspiring football players in the country. “I would like to tell them to never give up on their dreams, to keep working hard and push towards attaining the best version of themselves,” said Chouhan. Dreaming big can come at a consequence, a consequence where girls are neither given an opportunity nor backed if they got one. Guguloth’s advice to young girls is to forge ahead, no matter what. “It is not easy. It is difficult, sometimes even your family doesn’t support you. But if you keep practising and working hard you will always succeed,” she signed off.
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