Walking towards a school field -- more like a small open space at the front of a building -- on a gloomy day with the earth muddied by incessant rainfall, this reporter was awestruck to see a bunch of school girls practising football with razor sharp focus even in such a poorly facilitated environment.
And after standing there for a few minutes witnessing the prowess and the matured game sense portrayed by those budding footballers, it became almost certain that those young girls had a purpose in mind and playing football was much more than just a fun pastime on a rainy day.
Digging into the matter, it was learned that the 16 girls playing were from Goaldah Government Primary School, which is 20 kilometers away from Magura district. Of these 16, five are in BKSP while nine have already represented the country in different age-level tournaments.
The girls' perseverance and steely determination, playing on a small muddy ground nowhere near the standard of even a mediocre practice facility, was on display as they practiced with the level of enthusiasm resembling that of professionals in a properly appointed football ground at the highest level. And much of the credit for such eagerness goes to headmaster Provash Ranjan Devjyoti and his assistant teacher Shahidul Islam, who act as their coaches and guide them in their pursuit.
While there is no shortcoming in their determination, lacking are their financial capabilities and a decent enough ground to help them grow. Take the case of Swarna Rani Mondol, an eighth-grader in the BKSP and an age-level goalkeeper. Those who witnessed Swarna saving two penalties in the tie-breaker to snatch victory for her team in the Bangamata Begum Fazilatunessa Mujib Gold Cup (under-17) last February at Bangabandhu Stadium, would probably not believe the hurdles Swarna had to overcome before becoming the shield for her team.
"We very often pass our days without consuming any food. We remain unfed if my husband [a day labourer] cannot manage work. We cannot provide necessary things like books, pens and other sports materials and it also becomes very difficult to pay Tk 700 per month to BKSP as Swarna's fees," said Sarma Rani Mondol, Swarna's mother.
Purnima Rani Mondol, a ninth-grader in BKSP who represented Bangladesh at the age-level in SAF Games in Kathmandu in 2019, also lives with similar financial constraints. No work, no food is the harshest reality for Purnima's family of four, headed by her father Nripen Chandra Mondol, also a day labourer.
Another BKSP ninth-grader and age-level player Ria Khatun is now faced with hanging up her boots at this nascent stage. Ria, who took part in Subrata Mukherjee Gold Cup tournament in New Delhi in 2018 and 2019 and scored a goal in the 2018 edition, has injured a ligament in her right leg while practising at the BKSP. As doctors suggested, Ria would soon be needing a Tk 1.5 lakh operation if she wants to go further in the game.
"I do not own a land of my own. I can barely make enough to feed the six of us [in his family] by working on others' land. It is impossible for me to arrange such a big amount [for Ria's treatment]," said Ashaduzzaman, Ria's father.
Meanwhile, Anika Tanjum, the most talented of them all, is in better financial condition than the rest of the girls. Anika, as academically meritorious as she is skilful with a ball at her feet, has scored three crucial goals and led the Khulna Division (Under-17 side) to the Bangamata Begum Fazilatunessa Mujib Gold Cup title last February. The contribution of these girls has not gone unnoticed. Much like the promising girls of the famed Kalsindur village of Dhobaura upazila in Mymensingh, the Goaldah village also boasts a number of talented footballers and the Magura district sports officer acknowledged their contribution.
"These girls have given notable performances in the Under-14 and Under-17 level. I hope they will maintain the good reputation that they have built so far," hoped Anamika Das, district sports officer of Magura.
And when the whole world is struggling to fight with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic with many athletes around the globe still uncertain about returning to the field, for the girls of a small village like Goaldah, playing football remains their only focus even in a not-so welcoming environment.