Ms. Flavia Pinto, a 41-year-old working woman from Mumbai, wakes up at 4:30 AM in the morning to attend her football training and later spends the whole day in her office. When she returns home, she catches up on highlights of football matches.
If you’re from India, this is not a routine that is associated with women and that’s where Ms. Pinto and her 21-year-old niece stand out.
Ms. Flavia Pinto and her niece Simone Pinto are the protagonists of Goal’s latest volunteer story ahead of the U-17 FIFA World Cup that is scheduled to kick off later this year in India. The aunt and niece duo bond over the sport and almost all of their conversations include football and hence, it is no surprise to see them sign up as volunteers for the first ever FIFA tournament to be held in the country.
Flavia quickly realized that women enjoy sport just as much as men do during the time she spent with her brothers while growing up.
“I come from a sport oriented background. Interest in football started with my brothers. We always preferred football over cricket,” recollects Flavia. ”Presently, a few of my cousins are amateur footballers. They represent their company teams too. I grew up with football.”
Growing up with football helped her learn its technicalities as well. She’s an avid viewer of football on TV and makes sure she always has time for FIFA World Cup.
“The World Cup is my favourite tournament. Even if I’m travelling, I make sure I follow it online” says Ms. Pinto, whose favourite national team is current World Champions Germany.
However, she is nowhere near satisfied with watching football on TV though. She takes her passion to a whole another level by training and playing for her company team. “I’ve also represented my company in the inter-company football matches. I was a part of the Vodafone Ladies team,” reveals Flavia.
This wonderful attitude and passion towards football was picked up by her elder brother’s daughter, Simone. At 21 years, she might not have the experience of her aunt when it comes to World Cups but football is just as important for her.
Simone Pinto, who lives in the same apartment complex as her aunt, is currently learning her trade in creative writing. “I think it was my dad who initially got me interested in football. My favourite teams are Manchester United and Spain. Aunt and I always go through football rivalries,” comments Simone.
“[Simone is] my elder brother’s daughter. We are a joint family. She has been with us throughout. She is very close to me and has imbibed most of my tastes,” says a proud aunt. “She has come along when I played. We watched the FIFA World Cup together.”
She reveals that although their arguments have always been about football, they take an ugly turn when she argues that her favourite national team Spain is better than Germany.
“She’s an avid Manchester United fan and supports Spain. So we have our differences,” reveals Flavia.
“We have major arguments over football and she has to be nice to me because I’m the one who takes her to places. I take her to ISL matches too, so she has to be nice, saying ’Germany is nice’ and all that. I’m one of the few people that she’s allowed to come with so…,” Flavia’s voice tails off, stating the obvious point of who’s the boss in the house when it comes to football.
Both the aunt and niece are pro-ISL, going as far as to say ISL could be the way forward for Indian football. They have their reasons for that argument too.
“When the ISL has happened, we have gone for all seasons. I didn’t know much about Indian football before ISL,” confesses Flavia.
“Frankly speaking, Indian football was not appealing before ISL. We got to meet a lot of Indian players during the ISL, like Sunil Chhetri for example. Looking at him and the others play, the interest is there now. India is still developing its football culture. Now there is an interest to watch Indian football as well,” claims the football lover from Mumbai.
Flavia continues to make more sense when she says, ”ISL brought us closer to Indian football. Very few people other than the normal football lovers would have been able to name two Indian clubs if asked. But people know the players because ISL happened.”
All this is not just talk, mind you. These ladies make it a point to attend every ISL game of Mumbai City FC, their hometown club. “We ensure that we go to every ISL match. In the first season, we attended every game.”
Simone concurs, “When I started, I just watched the matches and I enjoyed it. Eventually, both of us started watching it together. We’ve gone for the ISL matches at home. Sometimes, away matches too!”
When FIFA announced India as the hosts for the U-17 World Cup, both these women were on cloud nine. “When the U-17 FIFA WC was said to be happening in India, I gave her the information first. We registered as volunteers,” says a jubilant Flavia.
Flavia also believes that Indian football is on the rise, complementing ISL’s involvement in bringing international talent to the country, which in turn has helped youngsters to think about the sport as a profession.
“The way we are going, the new policies, the decisions, the coaching, I think we can really do well at the international stage,” opines Flavia. “It’s a long journey, nothing that will happen overnight. Now that we are ranked 100, we have a chance.”
The strong affinity towards Indian Super League also stems from the fact that she got to watch one of her favourite footballers play the game last year. “ISL gave us the opportunity to see international players. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I could see him [Diego Forlan] play. So when the youngsters get to see players like that, it will build their passion and interest towards football.”
Simone adds, “I’m mostly someone who watches football on TV except when the ISL is going on. And ISL hasn’t been happening as much as I would have wanted it to. It was really cool to see the foreign players like Anelka and Forlan play. Forlan was the best signing for Mumbai because that was so cool!”
The young girl from Mumbai also has ideas for her local ISL team. “If I had a chance to bring one player from the Manchester United squad to ISL for Mumbai, it would be Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes. It’d have been better if they were younger but again, experience matters,” suggests Simone.
As volunteers for the World Cup, Flavia and Simone have a tough but enjoyable task at hand. Gender and age shouldn’t determine your choice of fun, according to the youngster from Mumbai. “It shouldn’t matter if you are a man, woman or a kid. As long as you enjoy the sport, you should come out to watch the match and have a good time,” says Simone.
The aunt and niece duo can’t wait for the U-17 World Cup and the excitement propelled Flavia to jump at the first opportunity to book tickets.
“I was waiting for tickets to go on sale. I booked tickets for the matches in Mumbai. I tried for Kolkata too. Now that I’m a volunteer, I will certainly be a part,” assures Flavia, who did confess she wanted the final to be held in Mumbai.
Both these ladies are happy and enjoying their football. As Simone says, “It is so cool to have an aunt who enjoys the sport with you! It is a lot of fun.”
Well, let’s hope there are more football aficionados like Flavia and Simone out there, so that when the U-17 FIFA World Cup finally kicks off in October, the stadia are filled with support for the future generation of Indian football.
Follow Nisanth V Easwar on Twitter - @niktheblue94