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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

FIFA Women’s World Cup: As Lionesses go on a hunt to ‘bring it home’, here’s a story on Bradford’s own Pakistan origin footballer.

Football fever has seemingly gripped the UK once again. As England’s women take on other teams in Australia and New Zealand, we present you the story of Bradford’s own lioness, who rose through the ranks, founded her own football club, and continues to write her success story.

Ikra Ali, aged 28 years, is a Pakistan origin footballer, coming from humble origin and growing up in a South Asian household.

“Initially my parents were not keen on me playing football, as they are now. They were not proud of me playing out with the boys, other parents around would say, ‘why are you letting her roam around with boys’, but as I grew older, they realised my love for the game and sports. They did support me later, but yes it was challenging,” Ikra says, while she recalls her childhood.

Ikra’s training days, during her younger days, were challenging as well.

“Yes, it was challenging, I trained with boys,” Ikra recalls.

Ikra Ali at a game
Image: Ikra Ali

“It was not very welcoming, I used to get attention, but it was not always positive attention, there was bullying too.

“When I used to play football, when I was running with the ball, I used to get called names, names which were not really necessary. Sometimes, I was stopped by the referee and asked if I really have to wear the headscarf or not. I never got any real encouragement.”

It is important to highlight here that Hijab wearing players are creating multiple milestones in the game of football. Just recently, in the on going World Cup, Morrocco Women’s team’s defender, Nouhaila Benzina became the first player to wear a Hijab at a World Cup.

Ikra founded her own Atheletico FC’s women’s team. The idea behind her making her own club, was to encourage South Asian girls play football.

“Because of my experiences, in football, of what I went through, I did not want any other South Asian girl to go through the same. I wanted to make a comfortable environment in sports for Asian women, so I used my experience in football to create a club for women.”

Ikra Ali at a game
Image: Ikra Ali

Speaking of the plan ahead, Ikra says, “Currently I am coaching the junior team of the club, so my plan is to mould the future of football, and change people’s mind about who football is for and who should play football. I feel there is a certain stereotype that girls cannot play football, I wish to break that stereotype.”

Does she have the dream to wear the national jersey? Asian Standard asks her, “I feel like now I’m too old for that now,” Ikra laughs.

Passing on a message to other South Asian girls, Ikra says, “My message is simple. Don’t let anyone stop you, just believe in what you are. Whatever anyone says, you should not let that get to you. Football is not just for one type of person, it is for everyone, doesn’t matter where you come from, what you dress like, what you believe in – football is for everyone”.

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