Football, football! My kingdom for football, says Ritu Rani

AHMEDABAD: The routine of an average young girl in the village of Alakhpura in Haryana, is rather banal; there is no escape from the humdrum of her life. Once she grows up and completes her education, marriage, followed by a predictable family life, remains the best accepted option, in most cases.      

But then, before you form a definite opinion, meet Ritu Rani, the Indian Women’s National Team footballer, who defied the age-old accepted norms and pursued a dream that she managed to achieve with distinction. From a very young age, Ritu dreamt of playing for the country and finally proved it was no hallucination.

Nothing could stop Ritu Rani from playing football. As a young girl, she played with boys in her village despite the elders and conservatives in society frowning at her. She ignored them all. As the years passed, Ritu grew in stature and found a place in the National Team. But once she got married, everyone thought it would be the end of her playing career. It simply didn’t happen like that.    

Ritu got married a year before she joined the National Team for the SAFF Women’s Championship 2023, in Nepal. When asked whether she was expected to hang up her boots after marriage, Ritu said: “Playing football is as important as marriage and family life.

“I agreed to get married only after my husband said he would allow me to pursue my dream. His family members also supported me and allowed me to continue playing. My husband is my biggest cheerleader and helps me in every possible way. Whenever I am training at home, he will follow me and join me in the sessions,” Ritu revealed to with a laugh.

“I am not going to quit playing football just because I am married now. I can’t live without football. It’s simple. People should realise there is nothing abnormal about it,” adds Ritu.

An ardent follower of Serena Williams, Ritu argues that if the legend of women’s tennis can continue to play after being a mother, then why do people in India have the problem of girls playing football in our country?

“People always have this misconception that once a girl gets married, she should stop doing what she once loved to do. Why should this be the case anyway? Everyone has the freedom to live the way they want to and I think it’s high time society changed the way they look at things,” said the National Team defender.

Ritu does admit she was lucky to some extent. “I remember how supportive my parents had been throughout my journey. It wasn’t easy for them either. People in our village used to talk behind our backs- ‘Ladki hoke football?’, but the most courageous thing my parents did was to always ignore them. For my part, I knew I loved the game dearly, and am still ready to give everything for it,” she said.

Ritu played in the inaugural edition of the Hero IWL in 2017 and represented Alakhpura FC. She made her debut for the National Team in the same year for FIFA Friendly matches, but she suffered a knee injury that kept her out of the game for two years. She was back with the National Team after her recovery and played in the COTIF Cup. Since then, Ritu has been an integral part of the team.

“It’s a different feeling altogether when I wear the national jersey. I always waited for the moment when people from my village could see me donning national colours and representing the country. It’s all worth the wait,” Ritu said.

Ritu has played in all the editions of the Hero IWL with different clubs and this season, she played for Mumbai Knights FC and scored a goal. 

“Hero IWL has been an important tournament in my career. I get to learn every day from the players, coaches, and staff. Every season I try to perform my best because I know I have something to prove to the people in my state,” she said. 

“I hope people encourage their girls, married or unmarried, to pursue whatever they want to do. Society shouldn’t try to stop them. Parents should motivate their children and bring them to the field to play football or any other sport they like. It will give them confidence, increase their willpower, and help them make their own decision,” Ritu concluded. 

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