I have made Football the kick of my life: Nadiya Nighat

Story by  Nakul Shivani | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 14-09-2022
Nadiya Nighat
Nadiya Nighat


Nakul Shivani/ New Delhi

“I broke the shackles of conservatism to pursue my dreams,” says Nadiya Nighat the poster girl of women’s football in Jammu and Kashmir.

25-year-old Nadiya is the first women’s coach from the valley to train girls and boys alike in the nuances of tough sports like football.

A product of the Government Boys High School in Natipora, Srinagar, Nadiya did not know anything apart from kicking things for fun in her childhood. “I used to kick around anything that came my way. It was part mischief, part pleasure,” she says. Till she kicked a football.

“It was big and I liked playing with it. Gradually I discovered my calling. I wanted to be a footballer” Nadiya says with a mischievous smile.

But the journey was never going to be easy. “I knew that and I was prepared for it,” she says.

Nadiya was determined to become a footballer the first time she kicked a ball

As a 12-year-old pushing herself to play football was a difficult choice she made. She had to endure taunts from relatives, neighbours, and even her own family members. “Everyone made fun of me. They asked why am I going around with boys. Who will like me.”

Initially, even her parents did not encourage her. Coming from a not-so-economically well-off family, Nadiya had to face the brunt of even physical torture. “I was beaten with belts. My parents said sports is not for girls. I was discouraged from going out. My parents feared the taunts from neighbours and relatives,” says Nadia with a hint of remorse in her voice.

But she was determined. She was the only girl among 47 boys in a Football academy in Srinagar. Spotted by Mohammed Abdullah who ran an academy at the A S College in Srinagar, Nadiya learned the basics of the game from him.

Not everyone was comfortable with the idea of a girl playing with boys. Some objected. But there was nothing that was going to stop Nadiya from pursuing her passion.

“My coach was very supportive. Each time someone taunted me, I told them just wait and watch.”

And surely, they watched as Nadiya dribbled her way to respect on the field. Playing against boys she beat defenders, scored goals and helped her team win.

But off the field, life continued to be bothersome. “I lost friends as parents did not allow their children to come out with me. They thought their girls will get spoilt if they see their children in my company,” she says.

But Nadia was determined to change this perception.

The turning point came in 2010 when she was selected to play at the nationals. “My parents accepted me as a sportsperson. But that wasn’t enough. I wanted to change the way people thought about girls my age. I wanted more girls to pursue their dreams”

Nadiya giving tips to future girl footballers of the valley

She started coaching young girls.

By 2015-16, she started training youngsters with the hope that she could change society’s perception about girls taking up sports. The same families who never allowed their girls to go out with her now started approaching her to train their kids.

“I managed to change their mindset. I consider this an achievement,” she says with a smile. 

But Nadiya wasn’t going to be satisfied just giving tips to change a mindset. “I wanted to prove that I can be a good coach,” she says.

In 2017, both her boys' and girls' team finished on the podium in the Khelo Kashmir championship organized by the CRPF. “That brought respect.”

Currently, apart from playing for clubs, she doubles up as a coach for the Kashmir Hero FC and travels through the Union Territory organizing academies to train young girls.  Gradually she is making her name in a male-dominated sport.

Nadiya sharing her experience with young footballers of Jammu and Kashmir

Nadiya trains more than 40 girls and boys today. “But it's not enough I just train them. They must get a platform to showcase their talent. That is missing here in the valley,” she rues.

“We need more tournaments here. There should be a proper league. The clubs should have properly structured women’s teams. Local academies have girls’ teams, the Kashmir Arrows too has a women’s team, but this is not enough.”

“The government is pushing all its resources into new talent. It needs to look at those who have given so much to the game here. Utilize our services, we can take football to the next level in the valley.”

Nikhat lives with 5 members of her family in Srinagar the household primarily survive on what her mother earns as a security person in a local hospital and her own earnings as a professional footballer and coach.

She is now determined to create a platform from where the first Kashmiri girl can play for the country.

“I still want to play for the country. If I can’t, I want to see one of the girls I am training to play for India,” she says with a confident hope in her voice.

ALSO READ: 35 lakh people associated with sports in JK: Nuzhat Gull

Finally, as I ask her to sum up her journey so far, she says “I want to bring change about the perception people have about Kashmir. Girls here are very strong, very bold. They are fearless. Give them the right platform, scout them and you will see them play in India colors soon.”