Aman Dosanj: The Real-Life Jesminder

Thursday 21st September 2017 05:50 EDT

The first ever Indian footballer to play for England, Dosanj has scored – or rather handled - more than a few goals. Dosanj held 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. I was extremely proud to have not only represented my country, but been the first British Indian to play at an international level, 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 cinemas. “When I met Parminder Nagra,” she told us, “it was actually quite funny; we were exactly the same height and like her, I was mistaken to be a lot younger than I was,” Dosanj told us. “We also had flack for not being able to make round chapattis (I was spoilt by having two really strong women, in my Mum and Granny, raise me, and so they cooked). The major difference, however, was that my parents bought me up to have an opinion and open mind, and so were really supportive when my coach told me that I had talent and could play for the country with the right training and help.”

It seems then that a sympathetic route to becoming an iconic sporting symbol has also bred in Dosanj a significant political fight. With regard to the changing state of racism, Dosanj said: “I think this and intolerance has just become a lot more acceptable in society. I haven't lived in England for 9 years (she now resides in Canada), so I can't fully say, but the last time I was back was for about 2 months, just after Brexit. I think we can learn from trying to become better. When I spoke with some of my friends about Brexit, they told me how their immigrant parents voted out because when they came to England all those years ago, they didn't have help. Where's the compassion in that? Sometimes we need to be reminded of all of our similarities to accept the differences.” Over her vast career, Dosanj has headed the Football Association’s anti-racism ‘Kick it Out’ campaign as ambassador, and continued to speak out for diversity in sports. Thus, Dosanj emerges more than an example of gender equality and a product of cultural progress, but that of the power of the individual as interconnected with community, and literally grassroots action: “I was never naturally gifted, and I don't think anyone really is, but I was willing to put in the hours and received a lot of 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 can do anything I set my mind to. I don't think it's a case of male and female, but well-guided aptitude.” Hopefully, talking contemporarily, and building on the message of the pop-cultural millennial film, Dosanj added: “the future is in training young people in teams that aren’t segregated: whether it’s race, gender etc. The only way you can get better is by playing with people from different walks of life.” And, of course, defending an open mind. 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! 

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 older than me and he obviously wanted a brother! He 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 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 with 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 other ethnicities. 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. 

Also, from a practical standpoint, getting into the academies very young is crucial. 

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 even make round chapattis!?


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