This story was published in the monthly Sports Tribune Magazine in March
Initially shunned in childhood from playing the game she loves, Bangladesh footballer Monika Chakma is the perfect illustration of how persistence and endeavour can help you realise your dreams.
Youngest among five sisters, Monika received opposition from her father when she started playing the beautiful game.
“I used to play football in the field with the other boys in my neighbourhood. At first my father didn’t support me all that much,” Monika told Dhaka Tribune earlier this month.
However, she kept on plugging away, and played her first tournament in the nationwide 2011 Bangamata Gold Cup, where she represented her primary school.
“I also played in the same tournament in 2012, before shifting to another school, the Maghachari Primary School in Rangamati, for whom I played in the 2013 Bangamata Gold Cup,” she recalled.
Her first two participations in the Bangamata Gold Cup went pretty much unnoticed by her father, but her move to Maghachari worked wonders in changing her father’s perception.
“Maghachari coach Biro Sen [Chakma] sir saw me play in 2012 and told me to join their school. When my father saw me play for Maghachari, he started supporting me, and has not stopped supporting since,” she said proudly.
After consistent displays in the Bangamata Gold Cup from 2011-13, her dream of representing Bangladesh started taking shape in 2014 when she was called up to the national U-14 side, following a trial in Rangamati.
Over the years, Monika has graduated from each age-level team in double quick time, registering consistent performances in different tournaments at home and abroad.
She began making waves in the qualifying round of the 2017 AFC U-16 Championship Qualifiers at home.
Monika was a key part of the Bangladesh side that progressed to the tournament finals after brushing aside the likes of Chinese Taipei, Iran, Singapore, Kyrgyzstan and the UAE in the qualifiers, scoring 26 goals and conceding only twice.
The finals in Thailand was a bridge too far as Bangladesh (ranked 100th) came up against Australia (fourth), Japan (ninth) and North Korea (11th).
The tournament was a steep learning curve for the Bangladesh girls, who exited in the group stage, but Monika ensured of making her appearance a memorable one by scoring against Australia.
A few months later, the 2017 Saff U-15 Championship saw her grand arrival.
Monika was adjudged player of the match in their first two group stage matches against Nepal and India.
The girls in red and green would go on to win the tournament, thanks in no small part to Monika’s virtuoso displays, and the success ushered in a golden era for Bangladesh women’s football.
The sporting landscape was fast changing and women’s football started attracting comprehensive coverage in the Bangladesh dailies and online portals.
The fans started identifying with the Bangladesh women’s football team, and Monika was one among many heroines who made it all possible.
She enhanced her burgeoning reputation further in the 2019 AFC U-16 Championship Qualifiers where Bangladesh passed the first and second round of qualification hurdles with flying colours.
Bangladesh’s appearance in the tournament finals (scheduled to be hosted by Thailand in September) was confirmed after a solitary strike by Monika against host Myanmar on March 1.
“I only have positives to describe Monika’s game. Didn’t witness any negatives. She’s a good runner, and has good vision. She works hard for the team. My advice to her would be to keep her feet on the ground, and take each tournament as it comes,” said Biro Sen, Monika’s mentor, and her first ever coach.
“In pursuit of success, one must always be confident and generous. I would tell her this. And, keep working hard.”
True to her coach’s words, Monika is not one for setting long-term plans, and has, for the moment, put the 2019 AFC U-16 Championship Thailand in the backburner.
Her immediate goal is to play well and reach the final of the 2019 Saff Championship, to be hosted by Nepal from March 12-22.
“My target is to perform in the Saff Championship for the senior side. Our aim is to play the final. We will try to bring positive results. We have been preparing hard in training. We want to reach the final. We will be playing against strong opponents. But we will fight hard for our country,” said Monika, confidently.
“And personally, I want to do something big for my country.”
Date of birth: September 15, 2003
First tournament: Bangamata Gold Cup, 2011
Playing position: Central midfielder, left winger
Teams: Bangladesh, Bangladesh U-14, U-15, U-16, U-19
Favourite local players: Sabina Khatun and Mainu Pru Marma
Favourite teammate: Maria Manda
Favourite players: Lionel Messi and Marcelo
Favourite club: Barcelona
Favourite teams: Bangladesh, Brazil and Argentina