KARACHI / KARACHI: In Pakistan, choosing football as a career is a brave move on its own. If you’re a woman, then it becomes doubly so. Seven years ago, a teenager called Hajra Khan made that brave choice. Today, she is the captain of Pakistan.
In these seven years, Hajra has seen many ups and downs, with the failure to win the National Women Championship in 2013 being right up there at the top for her.
She has since made amends for that, emerging as the top scorer in the 2014 championship, scoring an incredible 30 goals in just six matches to win the title with Balochistan United FC. The 20-year-old also led Pakistan in the South Asian Football Federation (Saff) Women Championship 2014, scoring for the country in what was an overall disappointing tournament for the hosts.
In the country, she is likened to legendary female footballer Brazil’s Marta Vieira da Silva and the comparisons leave her both humbled and motivated. “My idols in football are Pele and Marta; people say I play like her,” Hajra told The Express Tribune. “I have achieved a lot in my career in a short time.”
The four aspirations
Hajra revealed that there are four things that she always wanted to achieve and she has already achieved most of them. “The first step, and the most important one, was to get into the national side,” she said. “I did that early on, back in 2007. That changed everything.”
Hajra always wanted to become a sportsman and it was her interest in sports in general that made her go to the football trials for the provincial women’s team in Karachi in 2007.
“I saw a notice in the papers that the trials were taking place, so I told my mother that I wanted to go,” she said. “When I got to the trials, an official from Diya FC picked me for their team, and that was the beginning of my footballing journey.”
Now she is playing for Balochistan United FC, a Quetta-based club that claimed its first ever National Women’s Championship title last year thanks to Hajra’s exploits.
“Switching to Balochistan United was a natural progression,” she added. “Here the training is more professional. We get to train with national coach Tariq Lutfi, and PIA’s Shamim Khan, who also coach the men’s teams. So this has given me more confidence.”
This brings Hajra to the second point of her check-list: to play for a foreign club. She has also achieved this, having played for Sun Hotels and Resorts Football FC in Maldives.
“Playing the league in Maldives was exciting,” she said. “I got to learn about the game for the most part, interacting with players from different countries and playing together as a team made me a better player.”
She added that although it was only the second national women’s football league in Maldives, the standard of football was better than that in Pakistan, where the championship has been taking place for a decade now.
“Pakistan women’s football is improving and now we have foreign players coming to play as well,” said the striker, pointing to Maldive’s Areesha Reza, who joined Balochistan United with her. “It is a great opportunity for us. As for me, I’ll be going back to play the season with my club in Maldives.”
The third item on that list was to captain the international side and she did so in the Saff Championship. “Leading the national side is everybody’s dream,” she said. “In Saff, it was a great experience. The team respected me and we helped each other like a unit should.”
The final aspiration, however, still remains unachieved. “I think the fourth feat that I would want to achieve is to play in Europe,” she said.
At the tender age of 20, Hajra has achieved what many can never in a lifetime. There would be few who would bet against her donning on the colours of a European giant someday.