With 56 goals in 2017, 15-year old Nahida is a champion in her local girls’ football league. She and her teammates from the Gənclik (“Youth”) team come from the city of Shaki, an ancient and impoverished city in the mountains of northern Azerbaijan. Shaki is a conservative place where football is seen as a male sport; men dominate the clubs and football pitches. However, Nahida and other young female footballers are challenging that stereotype, one goal at a time.
The story of these girls from Shaki is no outlier; their enthusiasm mirrors a growing interest in women’s football throughout Azerbaijan. Today, according to the Azerbaijan Association Football Federation, there are 52 under 16 girls’ football clubs in the country, 36 of which were formed in provincial towns just like Shaki.
Local coach Mammad Dashadov has played a valuable role in putting Shaki’s team on the map, and helping these girls feel that the football pitch is open to them, too. “In general, since female football involves women and Shaki is a peculiar place, women’s football was seen as something strange. When we founded a women's football team in Shaki, there was some confusion; ‘what is women’s football?’ It seemed strange to locals,” says Dashadov, who trains three women’s football teams.
As the idea of women’s football seemed strange to parents in Shaki, Mammad first set an example himself. He formed the city’s first women’s football team with his two daughters, his brother’s two daughters, and his brother-in-law’s two daughters. “I brought them together and formed a team to show people. Later on, some parents approached me and asked me to accept their daughter onto the team. So it was difficult in the beginning, but it became easier later on,” reflects Mammad.
A little while later Mammad approached the orphanage in Shaki and invited the city’s orphaned girls to join the team. That’s how he discovered Nahida and 13 other girls who were passionate about football and came to form the UGIM team of Shaki.
“It was my childhood dream to be a footballer. When Mammad teacher came to take girls to training, I went with them. I was a child and was just running after the ball among elder girls,” remembers Nahida with a smile.
Nahida was eventually noticed by the Azerbaijan Football Association and started playing in the national girls’ under-17 team. While she still focuses on her education and regularly trains to improve her footballing skills, she still dreams of meeting some world-famous footballers, especially Cristiano Ronaldo.
Learn more about Nahida’s footballing dreams in this video.