Women's football will soon be on par with men's game, says FC Pune city's captain

Pranav Shahaney
Playing tournaments like the Indian Women’s League gives us exposure and educates people that there women participating at the top level too, says FCPC’s Darshana Sanas

City girl Darshana Sanas already appears to be living her footballing dream, winning plaudits for her football and leadership skills being the skipper of FC Pune City’s (FCPC) women’s team.

Despite not having an Indian Super League (ISL) equivalent, the women’s team has continued to punch above their weight in the Pune District Football Association (PDFA) leagues as well as the Western India Football Association (WIFA) state championships, winning the latter while finishing as a runner up in the former.

Rightly so, Sanas has been the one who’s been seen as the glue that has held the FCPC unit together due to her immense leadership skills. Serving as the flag-bearer in many ways for women’s football in the city,

The 23-year-old talks about her journey as a female footballer in the country and how the game appears to be picking up in Pune and why the future for the game offers a ray of hope for all young girls playing at the junior level.

Speaking about the club she holds so close to heart, Sanas stated, “I was with FC Pune City since day one – since they decided to make a women’s team so I feel a strong connection with the club. After we’ve had an established team it’s only been uphill with us winning the PDFA leagues and the state championships as well. The journey has been fantastic and we have a very good coaching staff here.”

The domestic season for the male footballers begins in September with the pre- Indian super league (ISL) training and goes on until late April. However, for the women, there are no such fixed dates which could make the situation dicey in terms of player availability throughout the year. But, Sanas doesn’t appear to be fazed by this and believes women’s football is headed in the right direction and would soon follow a similar pattern to the men’s game.

“Unlike the men, we don’t have a fixed schedule as it all depends on the invitational tournaments. Usually, our competitions begin in September and go on until January or February with the senior nationals and the Indian Women’s League (IWL).

“Women’s football in India isn’t at a developed level that we can follow a specific calendar but it is picking up drastically and the future is bright for the next generation. Playing in tournaments like the IWL also gives us the exposure and educates people that there are women participating at the top level too,” said the FCPC captain.

Back in her school days, when only a handful of football events took place for women in the city, Sanas certainly found competing at the top level exceedingly difficult but over the last few years, with the rise of in number of clubs, she feels that the sport is headed in the right direction and more girls are now encouraged to start playing professionally.

Sharing her thoughts on how far the game has come in Pune, she said, “Since FC Pune City’s women’s team came up, I think the level has gone up considerably. We’ve been given opportunities to go to Haldwani to play Fustal and we’ve also gone to Delhi and Goa.

“At the school level, we’re scouting a lot of youngsters to join our team and in the next five years I certainly see a handful of Pune’s players representing India because the level of football is fantastic.”

Apart from playing professionally, she is also coaches (holds a The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) grassroots coaching course license and an All India Football Federation (AIFF)-D coaching license) a number of children in different age groups as she aims to make them better players than her when they turn 23. She wishes to impart her philosophies on the youngsters and help them learn from her experiences and mistakes.

“I coach the under-10s, 12s and 14s at three different stations (Law College Road, Baner and Kothrud) in Pune,” said the 23-year-old.

Balancing her coaching and playing career has never been too much of a hindrance as she has planned her calendar in such a way that neither conflict with each other and she can dedicate her undivided attention to one thing at any given time. She also believes that coaching while she is playing is something that is unique but it also helps her improve her own game as she can draw from her experiences from both aspects and apply it in her career.

“There is a lot that I can learn from my kids which in turn helps me while I actually am playing. We get to know more about football while coaching that we don’t while playing. It’s also good to communicate and be a mode of transfer of information to the kids.

“Also, with football not being so prevalent in Maharashtra, we are not busy the entire year, so I have plenty of time to focus on my coaching. Months where I have matches, I have other coaches who take up training sessions in my stead,” said Sanas.

After playing in a number of tournaments of late, the FCPC women’s captain along with the entire team is currently enjoying her off-season. Sanas, however, who finds it difficult to spend a day without football, is continuing with her coaching classes while doing everything she can to improve herself and make it to the senior national team in the foreseeable future.