Sports Correspondent – Express Tribune
KARACHI: Pakistan midfielder Almira Rafeeque will make her debut for English club Luton Town FC against Stevenage FC in a charity match on Saturday after officially signing a long-term contract with the outfit.
Luton Town plays in the South East Combination women’s football league, which is a feeder to FA Women’s Premier League Southern Division.
The 20-year-old British-born will be the first Pakistani female player to have an opportunity to play for an English club, where she also trained for two weeks earlier this year.
The midfielder represented Pakistan at the South Asian Football Federation Championship in Islamabad in November.
According to Almira, her struggles and faith in the system have brought her this far.
“I just want to say that hard work pays off,” Almira told The Express Tribune. “It’s very important for the girls to have faith and take their parents into confidence. I remember when I told my family that I wanted to play football professionally, they were surprised but I told them all the details and every match that I would play in Pakistan.”
Almira came to Pakistan in 2008 and joined the Young Rising Stars Women Football FC in Islamabad. She went back to England for higher education and returned to Young Rising Stars in 2013 to win her first national championship.
Last year, she represented Balochistan United FC and won the national title with them.
The youngster was guided by the first approved Asian women’s football agent Shehneela Ahmed, who helped her negotiate with the clubs.
According to Shehneela’s press statement, Almira has the ability to inspire young women in Pakistan with her spirit to fight again the odds.
Meanwhile, Sheneela’s publicist Steve Hudson said that the response to Almira’s feat has been phenomenal in the UK. “Almira’s name will be marked in history,” he said. “It’s huge not just for Muslims and the Pakistani community but everyone here is happy for Almira. Her struggle and her desire to represent Pakistan and then to have a dream of pursuing a professional career in football has been an inspiration.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2015.