Aman Dosanj: The Real-Life Jesminder

Sunetra Senior Thursday 21st September 2017 05:50 EDT

The first ever South-Asian footballer to play for England, Dosanj has scored – or rather handled - more than a few goals. Dosanj took the high-pressure, international post of goalkeeper back in 1999, after being endorsed by ex-England goalkeeper, Sue Bucket, “who saw something from the first training session, and went to speak to the parents at the end". Dosanj continued:"I was extremely proud to have not only represented my country, but been the first Indian individual to do it, and of course, before a boy too!” The young champion was also lined up to travel out to the US on a scholarship at the same time Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It Like Beckham was launching in British cinemas. “When I met Parminder Nagra, it was actually quite funny," she told us. "We were exactly the same height, and like her, I was mistaken to be a lot younger than I really was. We also both had flack for not being able to make round chapattis. I had two really strong women in the form of my Mum and Granny raise me and they would cook a lot. However, the major difference between the character on screen and I, was that my parents bought me up to have an opinion and open mind, and were very supportive when my coach told me that I had talent and could play for the country: with the right training and help, of course.”


It then seems that the compassion on route to becoming an iconic sporting symbol also bred in Dosanj a significant political fight on behalf of solidarity. With regard to the changing state of racism, Dosanj said: “I think intolerance has just become more hidden in society. I haven't lived in England for 9 years as I am based in Canada, so I can't fully say, but the last time I was back was shortly after Brexit. I think we can learn from trying to become better. When I spoke to certain friends about Brexit, they told me how their immigrant parents had voted Leave because when they came to England years before, they didn't have any sort of help. Where's the love in that? Sometimes we need to be reminded of our similarities to be able to embrace the differences.” Indeed, over her vast career, Dosanj has passionately headed the Football Association’s anti-racism ‘Kick it Out’ campaign as their ambassador, and continued to speak out for diversity within sports via a multitude of platforms. Thus, Dosanj not only emerges an example of gender equality, and a product of cultural progress, but also a beacon of power for the individual in advancing society: literally acting at the grassroots: “I was never naturally gifted, and I don't think anyone really is, but I was willing to put in the hours, receiving the right reassurance. My successes in sport and the ability to pick myself up (even when it's really hard to and hurts), helped me believe that I could do anything I set my mind to. I don't think it's a case of male and female with regards to football, but rather nurturing aptitude in young people.” In a hopeful, contemporary spirit, expanding the message of the famous millennial pop-cultural film, Dosanj finished: “the future is in training young people in teams that are in no way segregated: whether we are dealing with gender, race or class. The only way you can get better is by being able to play with people from a variety of backgrounds.” And, of course, defending the progressive values that ultimately support this. 

Are there other similarities between you and Bend It Like Beckham’s Jesminder?

I used to sneak out of weddings and family gatherings with my Dad to play football for my team.

What grabbed you most about football?

I think the sport has tremendous potential to bring people together, especially when it comes to the international stage. 

Why were you personally drawn to the position of goalkeeper?

 I have an older brother who is 4 years my senior, and he obviously wanted a brother. He actually used to take me out to the garden and fire shots at me! I also think it's the most intelligent position on the pitch and one where you can see everything that's happening. When I was 10, I signed on for Red Star Southampton (which then got affiliated with Southampton FC), and the training which followed kept my passion alive from there. I didn't know I would only grow to 5 ft 2, but I still represented my country through a lot of hard work. 

What motivational piece of advice would you give to young and aspiring sportswomen today?

Keep believing in yourself; my story looks very shiny, but I've had so many set-backs. At the end of the day, despite the significance of solidarity, if you don't believe in yourself, who will? I've experienced racist comments, I've had my extended family ask whether I was a boy or a girl, people questioning my sexuality, but none of that mattered to me. I knew I wanted to play for Arsenal and England, but I also knew I wanted to get my degree and onto a Marketing graduate scheme. I stayed true to myself and fought for it, whatever that meant. Women are as capable as men. Indians are as capable as any other ethnicity. Let's figure out how we're going to get more British-Indians and people of different backgrounds into the Premier League teams and representing our country. 

From a practical standpoint: getting into the academies very young is crucial. Those wanting to play professionally should be aware of this. 

Finally, in terms of excitement and show of skill respectively, what have been some of your favourite sports generally. It seems like you’re not afraid to experiment?

Growing up I played cricket, tennis, volleyball, but mainly football with my siblings. As I've become older I enjoy going for hikes, being outdoors and adventuring. My main passion these days is cooking - and I can now even make round chapattis!?


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