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The women’s game has run and survived for all these years predominantly on passion and passion alone. It’s always a little bit of a struggle, and that’s where the beauty lies. Playing football is like you’re constantly breaking free, constantly just breaking away and we think that is why so many women play today. It’s so freeing and so beautiful, but it’s not easy.
When Tanvie Hans, former Tottenham and Fulham member visited us in our store and we were lucky enough to spend an afternoon hearing about her journey and what it means for women to play football not just in our country but also internationally, we understood a little more deeply what this game really means and how it functions for women straight from the person who's right at the center of the scene.
Tanvie is not just an inspiring person with whatever she's achieved but also a lovely human being to speak to. We talked a LOT about the sport and a little bit about who Tanvie Hans really is outside the pitch.
Here's what followed.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
I've grown up in Delhi, did my schooling in Vasant Valley School and my graduation in Delhi University. I was playing football from the time I was 7 or 8 years old.
Having been the sports captain in school, I was already very athletic and played all sports but football got me curious, I fell in love immediately like there was some sort of a special connection.
When I went to middle school in Vasant Valley, we formed the first women's team to ever exist on a school level in Delhi. We went on to represent Delhi in different categories, school, state, national. In 2019 I got called for the U19 India camp but because I had a British Citizenship, I wasn't allowed to play for the country. Both my parents are Indian but my mum had a British Citizenship and when I was born, they chose the same for me. I had come too far to give up. I had to play so I did whatever it took and play at whatever level I could. I was even training with the boys. When I was looking to join a college, the biggest criteria for me wasn't really how prestigious it was or what name it had for academics. I just needed the college to have a women's football team so I joined Jesus and Mary in Delhi University. JMC actually is one of the very few colleges that host a strong women's football team, actually the best back then and even today.
So we're curious, how did Tottenham and Fulham happen?
After JMC, I went to do my masters in South England for a year at Exeter University and played for the university football team. The structure and organization was better. I loved how they handled football for women in England. It was not the same when I was back to Delhi and I missed that here. I approached Coach Chibber, one of the most phenomenal football coaches in India. I wanted to do trials for football clubs in London and decided to give it a shot with Chibber training me. I trained for 6 months, morning and evening.
July 2013 I gave trials to 3 clubs and signed with Tottenham Hotspur FC and played with them for 2 seasons. In my third year, I shifted to Fulham FC. A lot of people ask me why this change?
I remember when I first had this conversation with my dad to go play in England, the conversation was only for 1 year which had definitely extended but I was sure that I was going to come back to India and share my experience here because I've had the privilege to play for premier clubs in the UK. Since I knew that my stay was short, I wanted the exposure and keep challenging myself. Different clubs would give me that diverse and varied experiences. In 2016 I came back to India.
You said you were very athletic when you were younger but what made you single out Football for the rest of your journey?
I didn't really actively choose the sport, It was a natural connection. The game just makes me extremely happy.
So tell us about your journey once you were back to India
So as soon as I was back, the Nike Da Da Ding Campaign fell right into my lap. They were on the lookout to represent women athletes and I was approached for the same. It was very encouraging to be associated with a dynamic brand like theirs. It's one relationship that I'm still proud of today. Really helped with my momentum. Throughout 2016, I hosted short workshops for different drills that I would design. I started getting approached by a few other people from Bangalore who wanted me to be associated with them. The natural move for me was to move to Bangalore. A culture of Sports has been growing in the city and I believe there were more opportunities compared to Delhi. In general, people were more active, there were more grounds, etc. 2017 was the year when I made the move. Cult approached me to give a sports angle to their fitness centers. Nishad and I helped set up the football classes in Cult. I was with them for a year and a half handling the expansion of football and sports conditioning. In 2018, I left Cult.
By the end of 2017, Sisters in Sweat started taking shape. My friend Swetha who I met in Nike and Sonali who happens to be a very social person just wanted to organize one fun session. So we booked a ground, had no expectations other than having a fun time but it ended up becoming more than we'd imagined. Now we have sessions every Sunday Morning with a majority of 35+ aged women who are mothers and working women.
Both Swetha and I are looking to expand and convert it into an official entity.
Do you reflect back to any memories or moments in your life which you consider as personal achievements?
So yes, I can remember a few moments that were pretty huge for me. I remember attending an event in Mumbai for women's football.
I was surprised to find that Baichung Bhutia was invited to facilitate me and to add to that, he handed over a handwritten letter to me from BemBem Devi who is literally considered Indian Football's first lady and I have immense respect for her. All of this was huge and overwhelming for me since I'd been kept in the dark about it.
Another similar incident was in a Youth Tournament in Bangalore where I was invited as the chief guest alongside Sunil Chettri. That was really humbling. It made me realize that not too many women have come out to play football in this country yet and it makes me happy to be one among the few.
What does it take for women to play football?
It takes a lot. A very strong sense of persistence is required because the structure around us does not support consistency. There's a lot that we have to constantly do by ourselves like taking care of our body, staying engaged regularly because there aren't many opportunities. We also have to continuously be on the lookout to participate in the few tournaments that happen.
But I would say that the game is 100% evolving. The number of girls participating today is 400% more than when I was growing up. In school, we didn't even have one football team for girls and today schools have A team, B team, etc.Internationally, I can talk about England because I have experienced it myself. The game has been evolved for a while because their structure allows it. When I was there for 3 years, I was engaged at a competitive level for 10 months each year so that amounts to 30 months of football. Today people are taking notice that girls are performing. There is a conception that women football will not be as thrilling or athletic as men's but turn on the TV and you will see that there's no difference today between men and women. That's where the younger generation takes inspiration from. It's just blown up internationally.
What do you think are some of the challenges of women football?
For a national team player, they are paid enough but it's not enough to make it their primary income. So basically purely playing football for sustenance is not enough.
Even the US Women's national team which is the best team in the world launched a massive campaign for equal pay just to prove a point. When the world's best team is saying this then there's surely a discrepancy.
So yes, money is a challenge. Some of the other challenges are that it's easy to lose inclination. You really need to have a very strong drive to keep going. I again emphasize on how difficult it is to stay consistent given our existing structure. Inconsistent tournament schedules, no proper fields to train on, etc does hinder the growth of participation and performance.
To me, a good solution would be to have a set calendar at the beginning of the year so we all know when the season is and can train toward that. Today a lot of it is unplanned where we get impromptu calls to get ready for competitions. We don't have enough reasons today to leave our daily jobs and routines to justify this participation but most of us still do it for our passion.
How do you think football has helped in instilling a sense of community among women?
Football is a team sport but it is also considered aggressive and male-dominated. Just the fact that brought women to break stereotypes and enter the field is what separates them from the regular. This is something these women have in common, I would like to term it badass.
This is a differentiating point which unties. Just the drive to play a contact sport at the age of 35 creates a sense of not community alone but also empowerment.
In Sisters of Sweat, we believe that we've created a family. Because these women who have played together share a special bond and support each other. Especially for older women, it's like an escape. That one moment in the week is just for them, just investing in themselves.
Fun moments from your Sunday Sessions?
Most of the women who play in Sisters in Sweat are playing for enjoyment or for their workout. None of them take it very seriously. They are here with the intention to burn some calories and enjoy the company. This makes the entire environment fun rather than competitive. There are so many fun moments from someone trying to kick a ball and completely missing it. This creates a 5-minute pause for everybody to laugh their hearts out. So yes there are many such moments in our every session.
What advice will you give young girls to encourage them to play?
I would like to say that they are growing up at a very good time. Women's football is so bright right now it's just important to stay consistent, grab every opportunity to play. This consistency will add up when they grow older. I would tell them to stay true to their passion, grab every opportunity they can, so they can further build the path that we are trying very hard to create for them now.
So who is Tanvie Hans outside the pitch?
I am not a very social person. An ideal evening for me wouldn't be going out for drinks but instead spending it with my close friends and family for a peaceful dinner and just chatting. I like movies and the theatre. I also write poetry. I enjoy music, I have a very wide palette from top Bollywood charts to 70's 80's western music like the Abba's and the Bee Gees. I also enjoy sports in general. If you hand me a racket, I'd be happy to play a game of badminton.
What next for you?
I have applied for an Indian Citizenship and I hope that I am able to get it soon so that I can be a lot more active in the Indian Football scene. I want to be able to perform at a level that is noticed and it creates an example for the younger generation.
I am trying to be the role model I wish I had growing up.