The talented girls, who study in a government school and play for their school team, have been featured in a video that was shared by Arsenal’s official FB page.

Meet Chamundeswari and Anbarasi TNs 16-yr-old football stars who caught Arsenals eye
news Sport Sunday, June 24, 2018 - 18:50

Clad in a bright orange and white jersey, a girl is seen tackling a football with a fierce demeanour. This is Anbarasi, a student of the Government Higher Secondary School in Sholinganallur. The 16-year-old is one among two girl football players from her school team to be featured in a video on the popular UK football club Arsenal’s official Facebook page. 

The reason? Both Anbarasi and her teammate Chamundeswari showed such talent in the sport that the Arsenal Chennai Supporters Club decided to sponsor their football future. The 4 minute 15 second video by the club narrates the story of the girls and how they were spotted by the club and later sponsored by them. The video also has the girls’ first coach Aaron Thomas who recognised their talent and pushed them to perform.
 
Anbarasi in an inter-school football tournament 
 
The video caught Arsenal’s attention and got featured on the club’s official FB page, making the two girls from a suburb in the south of India known to the world.
 
“Four years ago we held a tournament called the Cannon Cup where teams could register and play against each other. The Sholinganallur team, which the two girls were part of, had registered for the event. Unlike the other teams, these girls did not have proper jerseys and played in canvas shoes, which is all they could afford. But soon we noticed that these two girls were phenomenally talented. They easily stood out from the rest,” says Aravindan, the secretary of the club.
 
Chamundeswari in one of the inter-school matches 

The girls’ history with football is, in fact, quite recent. According to Aaron, they only started playing in Class 9. However, they got really good at it really fast.

“Chamundeswari is a forward while Anbarasi is a mid-fielder. When they started, these girls could only afford canvas shoes which cost a maximum of Rs 150 to 200. But the Arsenal supporters club noticed how talented these girls are and offered to sponsor their football gear, equipment and anything else they might need to play the game,” says Aaron.

How the encounter with football happened

Speaking to TNM, Chamundeswari, the 16-year-old starlet of the Sholinganallur girl’s football team, narrated her tryst with football.

“I moved to this school only in Class 9. Before that I used to run, play kho kho and do long jump. When I joined, the coach was asking anyone who was interested to come for football try-outs. I had no hopes as prior to this I didn’t know anything about football. I got selected in the try-outs and joined the team. It was very motivating and I felt like even I could learn and play a sport from scratch,” she recalls.

Unlike Chamundeswari, Anbarasi has another story to tell about her chance encounter with the game.

“Our entire batch actually went for selections just to bunk class,” she confesses with a chuckle. However, once they were selected and started training they learnt to manage classes and practice beautifully, says Anbarasi, who is currently the team captain.

The girls football team of Government Higher Secondary School, Shollinganallur 

“Our coach trained us little by little and we developed an interest. From then on, we never missed classes. We’d train in the morning from 6:30 to 8:30 and then go to class,” she says.

However, Aaron and the girls had to tackle several obstacles such as parents’ disapproval, stigma against wearing shorts and similar issues.“Initially my mom was scared to send me anywhere. Then our coach convinced her and she knew we were winning matches. Now, she supports me and is happy to send me to tournaments,” Anbarasi adds.

Goal is to win district cup

Having overcome these obstacles, the team won two zonal matches in two consecutive years. This year, they have their eyes on the district championship.

Winning the district cup is not just a matter of pride for the team. It would also secure the girls’ future as they would receive admission in the sports quota in any college that has a girls football club in Tamil Nadu. Moreover, the duo are in Class 12 now and this is the last year that they have a shot at winning the district cup.

Aaron, the girls’ first coach and the man who trained them from scratch, says that this year is different as there is pressure building up – both from the academics side and from the tournament itself.

Aaron and team warming up 

“The team is undergoing rigorous training. The school too has provided a permanent coach now and I have taken up the promotional side of things,” says Aaron.

The Arsenal Chennai Supporters Club too has been pivotal in its contribution to realise the team’s dream.

“We have been providing the girls with shoes from Puma (which is the official sponsor for Arsenal). We got them Arsenal jerseys and other training equipment, such as shin pads and footballs for practice,” Aravindan adds.

Chamundeswari and Anbarasi with their jerseys 

The school grounds, where the girls train every day, lost its goal post after a tree fell on it during Cyclone Vardah back in 2016. The club later sponsored a goal post for the school, says Aaron.

The club, which has 2,000-odd members, regularly organises Arsenal match screenings, for which they collect a bit of extra money that they use to fund the needs of the girls.

Football and life

Aaron says that the team’s playing style consists of more attack than defence.

“If you have seen how Barcelona plays, the club pushes its opponents to their side of the half. It is called high press football. That’s the sort of style that these girls have adopted,” he says.

Aaron also says that it is especially heart-warming to watch the two girls play their hearts out despite facing several obstacles and challenges at home.

“Both of them come from underprivileged, middleclass backgrounds. Anbarasi’s father is an alcoholic and her mother works as a helper in a company near their house. The issues she faces at home, I am sure, affects her mentally. But she channelises all that negative energy into positive force on the ground,” Aaron says.

Chamundeswari was raised by a single mother, he adds.

“Her dad left their family when she was a kid. Her mom was the only breadwinner who raised Chamundeswari by herself. It was a tough upbringing. But she is a tough girl and brings all that anger to the pitch,” Aaron says.

Despite training hard and preparing for their Class 12 exams, the duo manages to follow important matches in the ongoing World Cup.

“I watch all matches where Messi and Ronaldo play. I don’t wish to play like them, but it inspires me to perform to the best of my abilities,” Chamundeswari says.

Anbarasi’s favourite player is from Chennaiyin FC, which won the ISL this year.

“Jeje is my favourite player. Next favourite is Tjaronn Chery. But I also love Cristiano and I have been watching his matches this time. As for club football, I don’t follow it much but my coach showed me a video of Arsenal’s games to us once,” she says.

Sports aside, the two want to succeed in their careers as well.

“I want to get an engineering degree and support my family later. We are not very financially well off,” Chamundeswari says in the video on Arsenal’s official Facebook page.

As for Anbarasi, she wants to study BCom in college via the sports quota.

The answer to all their dreams begin with the one thing they are putting all their heart into – football. And they not alone. Backing them is a 100-year old English football club with a massive fan following that wants to see these budding footballers win.

Watch the video here: 

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