By V. Shuman

The film Bigil, starring Thalapathy Vijay, brought to the fore, female involvement in the male-dominated sport of football.

If you are active on social media, you would have noticed a series of photos going viral, showing female football players in action, while wearing saree.

Curious, Astro Ulagam got in touch with the Penang Indian Football Association to find out the story behind the new concept photoshoot.

The association's president Sri Shankar said that female involvement in the association began about two years ago, when a couple of women sought his help to book a court to play futsal.

"It was just two of them then, so I asked them to find more players via Facebook, and before we know it, 80 girls had volunteered to participate," he recalled.

Although they now had the numbers, Shankar faced difficulties in getting all of them involved as fustal courts only allow booking for two hours at a time.

Shankar then sought the help of Seberang Prai city councillor David Marshel, who chipped in to sponsor the courts for a full day.

It was at around this time that Bigil was released, and the players were all "fired up" to get involved in the sport in a serious manner. The number of players eventually swelled to 312, causing the association to split it into several parts, in different states.

Today, there are 112 players in Penang, while the remaining 200 are split into seven other states - all parked under the umbrella of the Penang Indian Football Association.

Despite the various training sessions the players had attended since, they did not get to participate in any real tournament, so the association decided to create one.

Going Mainstream

"We wanted to start the 'Poovai Soccer League' involving clubs from around the country, to be held this year.

"In fact, the football in saree photoshoot was supposed to have been the publicity for that league," Shankar, who is also the manager of the women's team, recalled.

However, the league has been postponed by the lockdown imposed to contain COVID-19.

According to Shankar, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) called him April, asking if the women's club would be interested to participate in the Tun Sharifah Rodziah Cup, which was supposed to have been held last May.

Although hesitant at first (due to cost concerns) Shankar said yes to the offer, for exposure's sake, and raised part of the funds needed to join the tournament.

"We also picked the best players from each state team to come together to play for our team."

Unfortunately, the lockdown has also caused the tournament to be postponed to October this year.

After the photoshoot went viral, Shankar has received calls from Singapore, and even Scotland, asking if his association was willing to "loan" his players to their club for tournaments.

"As excited as the girls were with the exposure, at the same time I told them that this is just the beginning, as we have to live up to all the hype created," he said.

In addition to their playing skills, a number of women in Shankar's team have gone on to acquire professional football coaching and refereeing credentials.

A job well done indeed, Shankar and his "Singa Pengal"! Here's hoping they will get the recognition and exposure they deserve once the dust has settled.


Photos source: Penang Indian Football Association Facebook