Football: Playing football barefoot might be a distant past for most Bhutanese. With the rapid modernisation the country is undergoing, the younger generations of today might not fanthom the experience of playing barefoot.

A few decades ago, when football was first introduced in the country, not many would have had the privilege to adorn themselves with all the fancy football gear that are widely used today.

Amidst the modernisation, a girl’s football team from Sakteng lower secondary school (LSS) continues to surprise spectators with their ability to play the game barefoot. Their passion for the game alone is enough to win them games.

In a friendly game between the team from Sakteng and the Pelkhil School girls team in Thimphu yesterday, the highlanders defeated the much experienced city team by two goals to one.

The girls from Sakteng struggled in the fist half when Pelkhil School took the lead in the 25th minute. The team surely wasn’t playing the game to the best of their abilities. Something wasn’t right. The first half ended with the team trailing by a goal.

During the break, the girls requested to play barefoot. Match officials approved their request and the game resumed with a replenished spirit in the team. Their faces told the story. The real game was now on.

The girls looked more comfortable in the match. They were running faster and their control over the ball had also improved. Sangay Dema of team Sakteng equalised in the 70th minute. A brilliant free kick from Thinley Tshomo sealed their first away victory in the 82nd minute.

The win surely was a great achievement for the young team from Sakteng. Tears of joy were shed after the game.

Pema Tshomo, the youngest player on the team said that coming to Thimphu and winning a football match against one of the finest girls team was not what she had dreamt of.

“We came here to experience how it feels to play against a real team. The journey so far has been very rewarding,” said that 13-year-old. “I love playing football and I would like to play for the national team someday.”

The games and sports in charge of Sakteng LSS, Tashi Dorji said that football is one of the most popular games played in Sakteng. “Without proper guidance and training, the girls lack quality play but they have a great passion for the game,” he said. “They have a lot of potential to become the best provided they are groomed properly.”

Tashi Dorji said that the girls are not used to wearing football boots because they have been playing barefoot since childhood. “They would continue playing even with wounds on their feet but they would not prefer wearing boots,” he said.

Pema Tshomo said that wearing boots made her wobbly and it was uncomfortable running with the boots on. “I like to feel the ground and the ball when I touch it. It makes me feel I’m a part of the game.”

The friendly game was a part of the weeklong programme organised by Thimphu City FC in partnership with UNICEF with the theme “Empowering Girls Through Sports: To Become Agents Of Change”

As a part of the programme, the girls also met with some of the renowned female athletes and actors in the country.

The captain of the team, Leki Yangzom who is visiting Thimphu for the first time like the rest of her teammates said that the experience so far has been enriching. “I never thought I would visit Thimphu and meet so many good and caring people,” said the 16-year-old. “I’ll be taking so many fond memories home.”

The team arrived in Thimphu on December 12. Apart from the football training the girls will be attending several talks from various organisations including sightseeing around Thimphu over the week.

The team will play the national women’s champion Thimphu City Ladies at the Changlimithang Stadium on December 18.

They are likely to play barefoot.

Younten Tshedup