Footballer Sanjida Akhter has recently made her debut in the Indian Women's League, sporting the jersey of one of the most famous clubs in the subcontinent - the East Bengal team.
Sanjida scored her first goal for East Bengal on Monday in a 1-3 defeat to Kickstart FC, who feature her teammate Sabina Khatun.
Despite the defeat, Sanjida was able to open her East Bengal account and fulfil one of her desires in the Indian Women's League.
In an unfiltered conversation with bdnews24.com, the 22-year-old spoke about her lifelong dream of playing in a foreign league and her journey from Bangladeshi village of Kalsindur to Kolkata.
You've made your debut for East Bengal. What has the reaction been like surrounding the women's league in India? How different is it compared to Bangladesh?
The people's ardour for the women's football league in Kolkata is quite exciting, more so if the match is being held on the grounds of East Bengal.
Many spectators come to support us in the stands during the matches. However, the number of supporters in Kolkata is still a little less compared to the amount of love we receive in Bangladesh. Especially after having won the SAFF Championship.
How different are the standards in the two leagues?
They are more or less the same. Like Bangladesh, the number of teams in the Indian league is not too many. This time, only eight teams are participating in the Indian Women's League. The standard of the competition is also similar to ours.
However, I will say that there are more learning opportunities in the Indian Women's League as players from different countries are competing here.
How did you feel when you got the offer to play for the East Bengal team?
Sabina Khatun and Sumaya Matsushima have already played for foreign leagues. In fact, Sabina is playing in the Indian league as well.
As for me, I’ve never had the experience of playing for any league outside of Bangladesh. The excitement I felt when I got the offer to play for a famous club like East Bengal was unparalleled.
Did you feel any sort of pressure before joining the club?
I guess I did since it was my first time playing in a foreign league. But Kolkata is not that different from our country. The people there speak Bangla and have the same food as we do. So, adapting to a new environment did not seem like an issue.
Things will be easier if I’m able to leave a mark on the field like I did for the Bangladesh team.
You’re sporting number 10 for the East Bengal team. But you didn’t get off to a flying start as you did for the Bashundhara Kings.
Since this is my first time playing in a foreign league, it will take some time to get used to it. I hope I will be able to adapt to the changes soon.
Have you heard the crowds shout your name in Kolkata?
East Bengal fans cheered us on while we were on the field. They shouted my name too! But scoring a goal in my first match would’ve made the mark.
You posted a picture of yourself in front of a mural of great footballers like Munna and Rumi. Will we be able to see your portrait next to theirs in the future?
They were legends, and I’ve just started playing for the club. Maybe my painting will be next to theirs if I can perform like them on the field (laughs).
How does it feel looking back at your journey from Kalsindur to Kolkata?
I didn't think much of it at first. But I saw Sabina and the others leaving for the foreign leagues. We also won the SAFF Championship afterward. I’ve been dreaming of playing for a foreign league since. Being offered a place on the East Bengal team has fulfilled that dream. The only goal now is to win.