Started in 2010 as an attempt to promote local kids’ interest in football, Rising Student Club fielded a women’s team in a league at Cuttack. The team would see girls from nearby districts clubbed into one side as they would go head-to-head against eight other teams. It was only in 2016 that a dedicated women’s team was started, thanks to the commencement of Indian Women’s League (IWL).
The Odisha-based club had a wonderful spell in IWL’s first season only to fall prey to Eastern Sporting Union in the finale. However, as fate would have it, they were pitted against familiar foes ESU this year in the ultimate clash. ‘’Before heading into the match, I had a talk with my players. Everywhere on Facebook, the posts read ‘Champion Eastern Union vs Rising Student Club’ for the finale. I wanted ‘Champion Rising Student’ to be used for us. I told them I wanted to hear the word ‘champion’ with our names,’’ coach Shukla Dutta told Goal.
90 minutes of regulation time, 30 minutes of extra time and a total of nine spot-kicks later, the result was decided in sudden death as Dutta’s girls emerged victorious. They were termed champions, just like Dutta wished. But the journey of these girls hasn’t been easy at all. Coming from not-so-well-to-do backgrounds, the players do other professional jobs to earn their living.
‘’The girls are all from a humble background. They are earning whatever they can from this league and also this is their only platform to earn recognition.
"Most of the girls work with the Indian Railways while some girls are employed at the Odisha Police. The U-19 and U-18 kids are still playing for Odisha so they aren’t working yet,’’ states Gitanjali Khuntia, the team manager.
‘’Odisha Football Association and Odisha Government have a tie-up wherein the players have got jobs through sports quota. Whenever the players have national tournaments or leagues, prior permission is requested for their leaves,’’ she adds.
Coach Dutta too believes that more than anything, the victory and the tournament has financially assisted the girls which makes a huge difference in their lives. ‘’IWL’s start is good because it helps the players. Some of the girls are financially challenged. Winning the IWL adds to their earning and I appreciate the AIFF for their efforts in the league.’’
While the title glory would cater financial aid to the players, it was about pride and honour for coach Dutta. ‘’For 26 days, I couldn’t sleep well at night. This was a matter of prestige for me,’’ she commented.
Shukla always cuts an animated figure on the sidelines. She believes that this was pivotal in clinching the victory in the finale against a formidable ESU. ‘’Communication is important. Eastern Sporting Union are a very skilful side so if we don’t man-mark them, then we are in trouble. Every message disseminated from the technical area was taken seriously and followed on the field which I really liked,’’ she recalled.
The finale was not the first time Rising Student took the game to the tie-breaker. The outfit had knocked out title favourites KYRPHSA in the semi-final on penalties which the coach believes was their best performance.
‘’I made my side block KYRPHSA’s two main players, Bala Devi and Grace Dangmei, because they were capable of troubling us. Once we went into the penalties, I knew we would succeed because we are the best at tiebreakers. I was aware of Manipuri girls’ incapability of excelling in such situations and took advantage of it.
‘’Even in the final at the end of 90 minutes, I told them to somehow hold on for another 30 minutes so we head into yet another penalty shootout. I wanted the match to proceed into the tiebreaker from the beginning.’’
When asked how nerve-racking was the decision to choose the penalty takers, Shukla answered, ‘’I had pre-decided my players for the penalty shootouts. In our semi-final’s tiebreaker I was a little worried but in this match, I was very confident because the girls were equally confident.’’
Crowned deserved winners of IWL 2018, Rising Student Club have shown their unending grit by getting the better of KRYPHSA and Eastern Sporting Union in the tournament. Knocking out the tournament’s toughest sides was a statement of intent and while they have the winners’ medals around their necks, they have also earned bragging rights as a team outside of North-East India has been named winners of women’s premier division.
Odisha can rejoice, for Rising Student Club ladies have lifted the trophy against all odds, and in a remarkable manner.