For those who thought that football in our nation was staring into the abyss, there is not only hope but a chance in the near future for us to make history. Only, you have to switch from the men’s game to the women’s one.
That is not a problem at all, because, with the rising popularity of women’s football globally, and thanks to our glorious girls in the under-16 team, in about 15 years we may be switching on the telly to see Bangladesh playing in the Women’s World Cup.
Well, who cares if we never manage to play in the men’s equivalent tournament, if our girls can bend it equally well (or better) and wrap the whole nation in euphoria, then let all our support and patronage be for women’s football.
The last 10 days have been a dream come true for all football-lovers of the country -- we were witness to some of the most emphatic victories by our girls on the field, which, I am sorry to say, cannot be matched by the men. Ever.
Large-margin victories against the likes of Singapore and Kyrgystan and solid wins against Iran, Chinese Taipei, ranked way ahead of us, are sporting achievements which one can only imagine of.
But the impossible has been achieved, maybe not by the men but by our women, who often have to overcome a plethora of blinkered social attitudes to take up something like football as a career.
The Bangladesh team and our teenage gladiators have not only given us unbelievable pride in being a football loving nation, but they have also made the path to the game smoother for those who aspire to follow in the footsteps of Krishna, Mousumi, Marzia, and others.
No write-up on women’s football in Bangladesh can ever be complete without a tribute to the Kolshindur village, 80km from Mymensingh, where, about a decade ago, the lives of young girls changed completely when a local school began training a girls’ football team.
The road to success has been strewn with impediments, some financial others rooted in social stereotypes. But the village of Kolshindur set the format of success over adversity.
The current Bangladesh U-16 team, which has already sealed a spot in the Asian U-16 final round, adds a layer of tantalising fame over years of hardship plus perseverance.
The talk of the nation is the young team of energetic girls who have shown us all and other participating teams how different they are in skills and standards.
Away from public gaze, women’s football has advanced a lot. So much that, today, many of us are transfixed by the way these girls play on the field.
Sublime tackling, relentless chasing, accurate striking, and the essential never-say-die attitude combine to make a riveting team, bringing back the pride of the red and green jersey, seen so much humiliation in recent times due to the unending debacles of the men’s side.
The recent five-nothing drubbing of the men’s team by Maldives was, to me, the last nail in the coffin. I hear that Bhutan, here to play the men’s side, has expressed emphatically of their desire to win.
So, from the top spots in South Asian football, this is where we stand now.
A long time ago, probably 1989, during the SAF Games in Pakistan, when the Bangladesh contingent was making the pre-tournament march in front of the podium, the commentator said: “Here comes Bangladesh with a very strong football team.”
That line rings hollow in 2016, when we have to digest many a pummeling at the hands of Maldives, a side which was once no match for our top club sides.
Of course, hats off to the Maldives football team of today, The Red Snappers, and their gifted captain Ali Ashfaq, arguably the best striker in South Asia right now. May they improve and go beyond this region to become a formidable Asian powerhouse.
For us, though, the pain of the loss in Maldives is subdued by our super-girls who are now the sole bearers of the country’s footballing glory. While we are all showering them with accolades, it has to be remembered that this success should not make us complacent and create a lax approach to the women’s game.
Today it’s the Asian Cup, tomorrow it can be the World Cup -- this forward momentum needs to be carried on with exactly that kind of aspiration.
The Bangladesh team and our teenage gladiators have not only given us unbelievable pride in being a football loving nation, but they have also made the path to the game smoother for those who aspire to follow in the footsteps of Krishna, Mousumi, Marzia, and others
Let’s go back to 2003.
The Bangladesh mens’ team won the SAF football tournament in Dhaka and, afterwards, amidst widespread celebration, I wrote an op-ed for The Independent asking for cautious celebration without becoming over-confident.
Looking back at the slide of the standard of the mens’ game in the later years, it’s clear that advice did not have any impact.
Today, each of the seven South Asian nations have made great progress, leaving us in the gutter. Afghanistan, which has played in the region for some time, has moved to another region to play with the better Central Asian teams.
Nevertheless, I will once again air that line for the girls’ side: Let’s not allow this remarkable success to dent our determination. All teams which lost heavily will go on, sit down, and make new plans to improve.
And similarly, we also have to strategise to become even better.
We have hope, the game is not dead in Bangladesh. I will pick up my much-admired green and red jersey, dumped in one corner, and wear it with pride whenever I am abroad.
And if someone asks me if this is our cricket jersey, I will say with conviction, “no mate, this is the colour of our women’s football team.”
Towheed Feroze is a journalist currently working in the development sector.