FOOTBALLER NADIA KHAN - ACHIEVING NEW HEIGHTS
We had the pleasure of speaking with football senaton Nadia Khan who happens to be the first British-Pakistani women to play internationally for Pakistan. We exclusively speak to her about her interest in the sport, her international debut and more. Read on...
Hi Nadia, pleasure to have you here. Before we learn about your journey in football, please tell us a bit yourself – your education, upbringing etc.
My football journey stemmed from playing football in the garden with my brothers at home. I also loved watching Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar on YouTube. I was a 100m sprinter before I joined football and I felt as though there was no team environment within athletics. I joined a local grassroots team after I was approached by a scout who realised that I had raw talent. As I fell in love with the world of football I soon realised that I wanted to play in higher leagues and become the best player I could. I trialled for Leeds United RTC twice before being accepted the third time. The setbacks of not been granted a place the first time, helped me train harder and I bounced back stronger. At a young age it made me realise that football was not all smooth sailing. In 2018 I joined Doncaster Rover Belles development centre and a year after I progressed on moving into the first team, whom I currently play for. The start of this season has been a turning point in my football career after receiving an invite to play for the Pakistan National Team. I've completed my final year at university, studying for a degree in Business & Finance in view to becoming a Chartered Accountant in the future.
How and when did you realise your passion and skills for the sport? Did you ever imagine you’d come this far?
My passion for football began as early as when I was kicking the football in the garden and dreaming of playing like Ronaldo and Messi. I knew I had to join a team to learn the game properly and put my passion and love for the game in play. I worked hard in training sessions and played my best in games because I knew deep down that this was the start of something big in my life. Dreaming big, being humble and focusing were some of the ingredients of my progression. One of my dreams was to play on the international stage and for the world to see me play football.
You were selected to play in the SAFF Women's Championship in Nepal to represent Pakistan. Tell us a bit about this and the experience of representing your country.
My family and I were so proud when we found out that I had the opportunity to represent Pakistan and take part in major tournament in South Asia. It was such an honour to represent the flag of Pakistan
The full experience was eye opening for me and has inspired me to excel further in the sport to help other girls have a chance to play the game too. Playing international football comes with further responsibilities and I feel that the team and I have not just made our families proud but the nation too. We trained almost every day and there were a mixture of classroom sessions also to help us gain as much knowledge on the aims and targets of how our coaches wanted us to play. Different strategies were implemented into our training sessions and each session was professionally planned out to help with individual and team play. We all received the best of care and everyone’s wellbeing was one of the top priorities throughout the tournament. It made me feel like we were a big family when I was out there in Nepal. Honestly from the heart, I have loved the full experience and what it has taught me. I can’t wait for what the future holds with international football.
You are the first British-Pakistani woman to play internationally for Pakistan. Coincidently, Pakistan has also returned to international women’s football last month after eight years! How did you feel about this? Walk us through the emotions you were going through the moment you found out?
I felt immensely proud and honoured to have been approached to play for Pakistan and to be the first British- Pakistani women to play for them. I was aware that Pakistan had only returned to international women's football after eight long years and playing in the SAFF tournament would be challenging as the opponents had more experience, thus at an advantage. I was unsure what to expect in terms how well we would be able to play together as a team, training together for such a short time before the SAFF tournament began. Though that didn’t dim my mood of how I thought of this to be one of the greatest opportunities yet.
Unfortunately in South Asia being a female in sports is often looked down on. How did you beat gender stereotypes? Was your family supportive of your decision?
I never really gave gender stereotyping in sport any thought during all my years of playing football. I am aware that there are differences in how much media attention men’s football gets in comparison to women’s football, however I believe that this can be changed if we carry on investing in women’s football. I am extremely fortunate that my family have always been supportive and encouraged me to play my chosen sport, football, which has been the foundation of my achievements to press. I stayed focused and disciplined knowing every training session, every match and learning from different coaches would empower me to become a better player.
What message would you like to give to girls wanting to follow the same path in sports but holding back due to our society’s stereotypical mindset?
Girls wanting to play sports and feel held back by society's stereotypical mindset are limited to progress. To help overcome this mindset I feel more sports funding should be made available to schools to encourage girl’s participation in sports and to educate families and communities of the importance. As well as education playing an integral part in your life, sport can help you make life choices that define you. Also
I believe that watching the Pakistani women’s national team participate in tournament around the world, it can clear a path to help other young girls join the sport as they have someone to look up too
You also play for Doncaster Rovers Belles. How long have you been playing for the team? Tell us how you joined the club.
This is my fourth year playing for Doncaster Rover Belles and I joined them after my year at Leeds United RTC. I was involved in a few trial sessions with the club and then selected.
You’ve garnered a lot of fans here in a short time - any plans on visiting Pakistan? One thing you want to tick off on your bucket list while you’re visiting?
Firstly, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my fans for all their support and ‘Inshallah’ their support continues. I will always endeavour to play my best and playing for Pakistan is an honour. There are no plans set in stone as to when I will be visiting Pakistan. However, I'm sure when I do visit Pakistan the experience will be amazing. I would love to visit different areas in the country to encourage women's football and generally give the game exposure in Pakistan.
If not football, which career field would you see yourself in?
If not a football career, my education will lead me towards the pathway of becoming a Chartered Accountant.
What’s next for Nadia Khan?
This is the beginning for me and ‘Inshallah’ more to come with the continued support from my family, fans and the professional bodies I will reach my full sporting potential. Again I would like to thank everyone for all their love and support. I hope to continue making everyone proud and inshallah break more records in the world of football.
INTERVIEW: SAFA ADNAN
PHOTOS: COURTESY NADIA KHAN