Just a few days back, ZNK Dinamo Zagreb forward Jyoti Chouhan’s name was on the lips of every Indian Football fan, as she became the first footballer from the country to score a hattrick in a European league, after she netted three against Agram Zagreb in the Croatian First Women’s League.
While she made the move to the Balkans last year, Jyoti would barely have thought of playing professionally just about a decade earlier.
“It was indeed a special moment for me to score that hattrick against Agram. We had lost our previous match against them 0-2, and we were all determined to do well,” Chouhan told the-aiff.com. “I had already scored two in the first half, and received a lot of motivation from the coaches and my teammates, and soon completed the hattrick after the restart.
“The reaction I got, especially from everyone back at home, was just so overwhelming,” she recalled. “It was a fine moment, but it also humbled me to think that there was a point in my life when I would never have thought that I would ever be at this stage,” Jyoti said.
Hailing from the Sardarpur township of the Dhar district in Madhya Pradesh, Jyoti grew up in an environment that was far from ideal for an aspiring young female footballer. Her father, a local businessman, had played a big part in her initial interest in the beautiful game, but tragically passed away when she was still in her formative years.
“That was an extremely difficult time for our family. My mother had to take up work as a daily wager to support the family. Also, my immediate family around us did not want me to play football. Them and our neighbours would often try and dissuade my mother from letting us go out and play with the boys, but I am so thankful to my mother for keeping up her support,” she said.
“I learnt so much from her. Whatever I am today is because of my mother and the sacrifices she made during those difficult years,” Jyoti recalled. “She is the one who shielded us from the prying eyes and sneering faces of society and helped us grow without any fear.”
In fact, it was Jyoti, who played the role of a pioneer in her school and encouraged other girls to band together to form a team and play. The young forward gradually improved her game as she moved on, and was soon selected in the state team to participate in the Nationals.
“That was a turning point for me. After I made the state team, the Government of Madhya Pradesh really took care of us, and the financial burden on my mother eased up in some way,” she said.
Since then, the forward has gone on to represent her state in countless National Championships, and has also been the top scorer for Kenkre FC in the Mumbai Women’s League and the best player for Gokulam Kerala in the Kerala Women’s League. Subsequently, she had also been called up for the National Team camps on two occasions in 2016 and 2018, before making the move to the Croat capital last year, with her former Kenkre and Gokulam teammate Soumya Guguloth.
“My mother was so happy when I first got the offer from Dinamo Zagreb. Of course, I’m the first girl from Madhya Pradesh to do this, and she was so proud to hear it,” said Chouhan. “That also changed the perception of the rest of my family, and of the neighbours as well. They now encourage their daughters to play football as well. If I, a girl from Sardarpur can do it, so can many others.”