On Saturday morning when I was returning home from my football coaching, the Instagram account of 25-year-old professional woman footballer Brishti Bagchi, the first Indian woman to play in the American Women's Soccer League and someone who I follow, was to give me news that made me super excited. I read that India was going to host the U17 Women's World Cup in 2020 and I started jumping around in the car. My mother was driving up the hills, overtaking and all, and she asked me to keep still because my excitement was distracting her. The news made me very happy.
But I felt one more thing when I got the news -- I wished I was older. I felt a bit bad. If I was older I would have got this chance to play on the team. You don't get many chances in India with women's football -- like for me, it is now and then above 18, and it is very, very disappointing. Which is why I wished I was older.
My name is Nathania John, I am an 12-year-old Indian girl, I live in Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu and now train with the boys at the First Kick School of Soccer in Coimbatore. I started football at the age of three, I remember it because it was an important moment in my life when I began. I got super interested at the age of six and have played with my father and brother and their friends at home and I used to dribble from one end of our lawn to the other.
Ever since I started playing the sport, I feel that football is the way I can express my feelings, If I'm angry, if I'm happy, if I'm sad. If I'm angry, I just take the ball and kick it high and then I'm fine. So like all my emotions are wrapped up in a ball, so when I get a football I feel so happy. Also the next important thing for me is to play on a team and to learn things like leadership and team work, I think like that's what makes the game beautiful. The Women's World Cup is super important because it is like Indian football is taking a new step. Other countries are coming and whatever happens, the Indian team have to leave a mark that they are good because they have got this opportunity. They have to be able to leave a mark and show that they are good so that their standards and the sponsorship and viewership of their game becomes higher and we keep watching the game. Otherwise there is no point. I think in 2020, when we host the U17 Women's World Cup, the sport will become more popular.
I watch a lot of football, even the late-night games. My favourite club is Barcelona, my favourite player is Lionel Messi. I do want to watch that Barcelona-Manchester United Champions League quarterfinal, but I'm feeling nervous. I have a lot of friends who are Man Utd fans and they are going to kill me for the rest of my life and tease me if Barcelona don't win, so I'm nervous. It's like my rivalry.
Men's football in India is at least improving and that's a big step. But women's football, it doesn't even come in the papers. But I know some women players who are not on the Indian team. So the U17 women's football World Cup coming up is like a big deal not just for any football player but for anybody. I know some Indian women footballers: Jyoti Ann Burrett, the Indian football captain Aditi Chauhan and Bembem Devi. My idol in women's football is Lieke Martens, my dream is to become like her because she plays for the Barcelona women's team. She is a super player, I look up to her and watch many of her videos. It is my dream to play for the Barcelona women's team.
I know I will definitely go to watch games at the U17 Women's World Cup -- I can't miss this.
(As told to Sharda Ugra)
Twelve-year-old Nathania John was one of two Indian children selected as official match ball carriers during the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.