It’s around six in the evening and as shadows grow long on the polo ground, a shrill whistle seeks attention of a group of young men busy kicking a football.
Nadiya Nighat is a hard taskmaster and her wards — 15 for this training session — are asked to watch closely as the 20-year-old coach, dressed in a pair of black shorts and a white jacket, shares some fine points of dribbling.
The first woman soccer coach and referee from Kashmir, Nighat wears her passion for the game and devotion to one of the game’s biggest stars — Cristiano Ronaldo, or CR7 — loud and clear, with JJ7 emblazoned on her jersey. JJ7 is her three-month-old football club and she is training the players for a B-division tournament planned after Eid. And yes, JJ is short for Jiya Jaan, the name Nighat is called by at home.
It was not a bed of roses for Nadia Nighat, the first woman football coach in Jammu and Kashmir to break a stereotypical mindset and prove that a girl can excel in any field.
The 20-year-old from Kashmir’s Srinagar had to face a lot of criticism for choosing an unconventional career.
Speaking to a news channel about her journey, Nadia shared, “I was the only girl among some 40-50 boys when I joined a training session at a local college. My family and I faced lots of criticism for playing with boys in a football uniform. Initially, my family was against it but later I got immense support from my father. However, later my whole family understood and supported me.”
An ardent fan of known footballers Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Nadia showed her keen interest in football when she was in school. When she grew up, Nadia went to Amar Singh College Academy to learn the tricks of this game. Subsequently, the Jammu and Kashmir Football Association (JKFA) also helped Nadia pursue her goals.