Amongst the turmoil and tumult, she dreamt…she still dreams and will never stop dreaming. Nadiya Nighat belongs to Kashmir…..a place where present is disruptive and future is quite unsettled. But Nadiya, with her prowess, is an inspiration to all those who want to break the stereotype.
Nadiya Nighat is a passionate footballer and started playing football when she was 10 years old. The summer mornings in the valley were the ones that Nadiya waited for. On those mornings, she got a chance to play football with her cousins and friends. But at Rambagh, where Nadiya resides in Srinagar, neighbours were a bit cynical about a girl playing football with boys. At home, her mother too did not like her little girl play football dressed like boys. But, Nadiya was supported by her father who strongly faced her conservative mother and traditional neighbours.
Seeing her daughter’s utmost interest in football, Muhammad Sidiq took Nadiya to the nearby Amar Singh College where coach Muhammad Abdulla trained young male footballers. “Seeing the boys tackling and controlling the ball, I was overexcited and immediately requested Sir to start training me,” reminisces Nadiya about her initial days. Thus Nadiya became the lone girl among 47 boys in Abdulla Sir’s training ground.
The boys doubted her calibre but it was like a challenge for little Nadiya. At such a tender age, she showed immense maturity in her training and picked up the moves, controls, passing and tactics of the game. She often left behind the boys and emerged as the leading striker in the ground. And atlast came the kudos from her male counterparts; they accepted her as their fellow player and celebrated her glory.
Nadiya feels immensely indebted to Muhammad Abdulla for not only developing her as a footballer but also initiating in changing the mindset of the boys. “Sir always supported me. He always encouraged me and never allowed me to feel left out during my training sessions,” she recollects fondly.
The feisty girl was soon in the Jammu and Kashmir state team. But as girls playing football are very less in Kashmir, it is sometimes very difficult to form the state women’s team. So Nadiya had to represent the Youth Service and Sports Team to play for the nationals in 2010. And it was a learning experience for the young girl of 13. It was a different ball game with competitive players from across the country. Nadiya got the exposure, she got to know what competitive football really is. And that helped her when she played the next national championship.
But Nighat had to wait for the next 5 years to play for Jammu and Kashmir. “The state team was not ready and the gap of 5 years was quite painstaking for me,” laments Nadiya. But she did not want to live with this lamentation. So as situation and surroundings demanded, at the age of 19, Nadiya took a gusty decision just like the way she gustily nets the ball.
Nighat plunged into coaching in order to bring in more girls into the game. It was a motivational move from the teenager. She knew that a female trainer would inspire girls to play football. It would also be easy to convince their parents to bring them on the field. Nadiya says, “The mindset of the people are changing-many parents are allowing their girls to play in shorts just by seeing me play. I feel really happy for that.”
In 2016, Nadiya completed her AIFF D-License Coaching Course and also two levels of AIFF Grassroot Level Coaching. “The Jammu and Kashmir Association (JKFA) has helped me a lot by giving me the opportunity to get the coaching course,” says Nadiya. Thus Nadiya Nighat, a trend-setter, became the first and only professional female coach from the conflict-hit Kashmir.
Nighat continues to play for her state team and dreams of representing the national team one day. But she is more active in coaching now. Nadiya has formed her own club JJ7 where both boys and girls train under her. The name of the club is derived from Jiya Jan-the nick-name of Nadiya and 7 has come from her football idol Ronaldo’s No. 7 jersey.
Nadiya has over 30 boys and girls training under her in the Polo Club near Rambagh. Every morning, they gather in the ground and practice. “It is like oxygen to me. Training young boys and girls almost of my age is a learning experience for me too,” says Nadiya. Her JJ7 competes in various state tournaments through which they get gradual exposure to competitive football. Nadiya also engages 50 young boys and girls in the 6-12 age group at the Rambagh Grassroots Centre, which is being run by Jammu and Kashmir Football Association.
Nighat has also completed a refereeing course and already officiated in some games in B-Division League in Kashmir. She was also awarded the best referee by the All India Football Association during that league.
Though the state federation has given her access to use its facilities, including grounds and tools to train both males and females, still Nadiya feels that it will take more time to evolve women’s football in the state. She states that though the situation is changing, still they need exclusive grounds with changing rooms for women. It will then be easier for them to practice. Along with grounds, female physios and more female trainers will attract girls to take up the game.
The maturity shown by this girl of 20 is path breaking. The way she thinks to popularise her favourite game across her breeding ground, deserves applause. But in the midst of all these, she did not stop dreaming for herself. She thinks of a global performance where she will represent her country in front of international audience and get noticed. And with that, another dream comes often-Nadiya witnessing an El Clasico where her favourite Christiano Ronaldo dribbling and dodging against Lionel Messi in an epic encounter.