An impassioned Ronaldinho fan, Brishti Bagchi will set out for Spain this August, to become the first Indian woman to play in the Spanish League. Brishti, 25, has been selected to train in professional football in Spain and to play for the reserve team for Madrid Club de Futbol Femenino (CFF), a team that competes in the Spanish La Liga Division-1 league.

A player in Bangalore United FC, Bagchi realised her passion for the sport at the tender age of seven when she was studying in a school located in the outskirts of Bangalore city. Later, she was chosen to play for the Sports Authority of India (SAI) girls’ team. Her inevitable passion led her to play for the Karnataka state junior and senior teams. After completing school, she moved overseas to pursue higher education. Simultaneously, she wanted to live her dream to be trained under international coaches as the exposure would enable her to become a professional player. Brishti, who is a graduate in Kinesiology (the study of body movement mechanics) and also has a passion for photography, started off playing varsity soccer at the Oklahoma City University. Later she chose to move to the North Texas University, from where she completed her graduation. She believes this student-athlete life she has led so far helped her grasp the importance of the game tactically.

The kickstar talks to SheThePeople.TV about the challenges of her life, in and out of the country, and much more. Excerpts of the interview

Describe your childhood and what inspired you to opt for football? 

I was seven that time and a coach from Seychelles was visiting my parents’ workplace campus once, and he was a former professional footballer. Formally, he was the first person to introduce the beautiful game to me and taught me most of the basics of the game. Ever since then I have been playing in school and various other camps outside of the school. A former student of my school called Leon Barreto helped me a lot during this period, right before I was selected for SAI officially. I was also coached by Okoli Valentine, a Nigerian footballer, who played a huge role in helping me find the edge in the game to participate abroad. Ever since then it has been an incredible journey, playing for SAI, State and at the Nationals. I later moved to the US to play collegiate soccer and before getting my trial at Madrid CFF in Spain I also played in the Women’s Premier Soccer League.

Not sure what it is, I have always strayed back to the football field. It is attraction at first sight.

I have played various other sports in my life, and continue to do so as a hobby till today, but have always had a huge passion for football comparatively.

Footballer Brishti Bagchi

You are to become the first Indian woman to play in the Spanish League. How often do you think girls from the country consider taking up sports as full time profession? Is it risky considering societal pressure?

Girls in the country very rarely think of taking up sports as a profession because there is very little opportunity provided. It is so much more sustainable to get a 9-5 job and forget football, but I can’t seem to do that to myself yet.

My family stood by me throughout, there are a lot of economic and social risks involved for sure. Even going to Spain right now involves its own set of pros and cons.

How did your life change with football?

My life has always had football in it from as far back as I can remember. Football and education have always gone hand in hand for me, and usually, one can’t be done without the other. It is a part of my lifestyle and it has not been life changing but basically a part of my life this whole time.

What did I learn from football? Discipline, consistency, failure as a part of the process, an opportunity to learn and grow, confidence, discovering my traits and weaknesses, and what the game means to me.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Finances, foreign status outside of India, being a female athlete, pay grade is very low, managing sports and education together sometimes can take a huge toll on the body and mind, so coming out of such circumstances and finding enough recovery time have been extremely challenging.

Performing so well at the international level must be requiring a lot of hard work and sacrifices. Have you faced any lack of support from the government?

I think what India lacks is about managing everything with a clear goal ahead. I know All India Football Federation has taken it upon themselves to improve things in the near future, and I really hope they pull through.

Footballer Brishti Bagchi
Obstacles for star Footballer Brishti Bagchi

On the other hand, I am currently facing a huge financial obstacle. I need funding for La Liga and most people don’t even seem to understand why it is needed. Let me explain: Women’s football is globally very underfunded, and unless you are a prodigy picked up at the tender age of 14 or something, it is very difficult to go pro for the rest of us. Most of us don’t even know how much we will get paid at the end, so we need to make it work in other ways. Most of us have degrees and work experience plus part time jobs in order to support our passions, in India or abroad. So when people ask me why I need so much money, it is because I can’t support myself financially in a foreign country while being a full time athlete. Now it’s not like I can’t use my degree, but how many of us really manage to make ends meet with our degrees right out of college? Especially in the European Union. Choices are very limited, because if I need to put 5 hours a day in a week into football as a professional it leaves me with only 5 more hours to work at best. So where do you expect me to get this money from? This is what has forced me to turn to crowdfunding.

READ: Indian Women Who Love Football. It’s Not A Myth Anymore!

How is the football scene in Bangalore for women?

The number of women participating has increased a lot. The level of the game will take some time to catch up because we actually need to work on grassroots development for them. A lot of women pick the game at the teen age or much later, and it is very difficult for them to compete with the others when they have so much catching up to do. If there were more grassroots development programs, and they started playoff more leagues consistently throughout the year, it would help the quality of the game.

Opportunities for girls in the state is medium. There are girls I know who are looking for residential football academies where they can also have some form of education but aren’t able to get too far in that regard. The boys are mostly supported and I have keenly observed a gender gap here.

I don’t really need inspiration, because I am always itching to play. I do need inspiration to do my runs though!

Share your strategies and insights with us. What do you think before a game?

As soon as I get on the field, I forget everything and try to just keep a smile on my face because mentally I need to be in a happy state to be able to compete well.

I have some breathing exercises that help me get oxygen to my brain and other organs well, and rely on the oxygen to keep me going.

How sports in general has liberated women in the area? Do women now seek to take up football professionally?

Women are constantly discouraged to play after a certain age, and somehow stigmatised against when they pursue their dreams. Women do take it up, but can’t totally rely on as a career option still. Women need to be allowed to wear their athletic clothes and be athletic, it all comes down to the little things.

Footballer Brishti Bagchi

Your message to young girls

For me it has not been about being different or anything. It is about what I have fallen in love with and am I willing to put in the work and time into it to see what fruits it can give me. I love the game too much and that is what has driven me so far. So my message is if you any find that passion, go live that life, because you get only one chance.

Read More Stories By Ria Das

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