Dubai Growing up in her native Sudan, UAE-based football coach Ayesha Mohammad Ebrahim was no stranger to the idea of playing with boys. Her sport of choice was basketball because it was fast and gave her ample opportunity to make quick decisions while on court.
This early experience of playing with boys certainly seemed to help Ayesha as she went on to play in the competitive women’s basketball league in Sudan.
However, three decades down the line, Ayesha discovered that she could use the basic principles of her favourite sport towards a coaching career in football. In 2008, she went on to get a Level C coaching certificate and held talks with the Sudanese Club in Oud Medha, Bur Dubai, about coaching its youngsters.
Both boys and girls joined in the sessions, galvanising Ayesha’s desire to enter the traditionally male-dominated world of football. In her first year in charge of the team, Ayesha’s Sudan Gunners team took part in the annual Maktoum Bin Rashid Football Tournament during Ramadan at the Dubai Police Officers’ Club earlier this month.
“I love football and will do anything for the first love of my life,” Ayesha told Gulf News. “I have a good feeling when I am at a football pitch. And in this team I have a set of youngsters who listen to me and are very eager learners. That makes things better for me as a teacher and coach.”
For the past four years, Ayesha has done her best to nurture a nursery for football in Sudan. At least five of her players are presently playing with the Al Hilal team in Khartoum while another is a regular with Wad Medani-based Al Ahli.
“Al Hilal and Al Merrikh have one of the fiercest rivalries, in Africa and to have my players in one of the most successful teams is an honour for me,” she said.
When the two arch rivals play against each other, precautions and advisory announcements are posted everywhere. What’s more, on match days police officers circle the pitch, while local companies compete to support teams. It is by far the biggest and most-watched derby in Sudan and one of the most bitter football rivalries in Africa.
Despite being a regular supplier of talent, Ayesha does not have things easy when it comes to getting support for her football club here. She has had to fund the team herself, relying on cash generated from the labour supply company she owns.
“I’ve realised that money is a big must in football. I have tried to get companies to support me, but I have not been successful until now. I am enthusiastic about this team and, if I can get some sponsors, I can even take this side to Sudan and compete in the league with a lot of success,” she revealed.
Last December, Ayesha took the Sudan Gunners to Khartoum to play in 12 matches during the winter break and they excelled in their first foreign football foray, winning 10 of their 12 games.
“That was a good result for a team that is young and amateur at best. But if I can get back to Sudan and be part of the league, I think we will do to compete for the title. Football does not just belong to a man’s world. I belong to football and I am loving it,” she added.