When Keren Kirubai first saw blind footballers in action last year, she was rattled. The Indian Blind Football Federation was organising its first National championship in Chennai in October 2021 and her dad’s friend, who trained Tamil Nadu, had wanted her as a goalkeeper. But she refused.
“I was afraid because the goalkeeper is the main player in this thing. Then suddenly, they pulled me for the IBFF reserve team at the National. That’s how I got into this,” said Keren in a chat with Sportstar on Wednesday.
The reserve team was formed, with players from other sides, to balance the draw at the National. And that gave Keren her first taste of the sport.
“When I saw from outside, I felt I could stop the ball as only blind players were playing. When I went inside, I understood the difficulty. You can’t judge where they will shoot. With normal-sighted players, you can judge with their body movements but that is not the case here,” she said.
“I’ve come here and am learning football now.”
The 21-year-old from Chennai is now one of the two Indian women’s team goalkeepers at the IBSA Blind Football Asia/Oceania Championship which begins on Friday. And with only two women’s teams here, India has already qualified for next year’s Worlds in Birmingham.
Goalkeepers are a strange tribe in blind football. They are the only players who can see! They are fully sighted while the other four – blind football is a fives game – are fully blind and even have their eyes covered to make it a level-playing field.
“The goalkeeper is the eye of the team, she has to position the players,” she said.
Keren was a decent hammer thrower earlier, competing in State-level meets, but the global pandemic stopped it. However, that has been a blessing.
“Being a thrower, she has good power for throwing. In this football, 70 per cent of the game is how the goalkeepers feed you the ball. She has a good arm, she can throw the ball well,” said Vikram Singh, national champion Maharashtra’s coach and the Indian team’s ‘goal guide’ here.
But Keren had a language issue too.
“The important thing is how ‘keepers communicate with players, how they guide them is important,” said Vikram.
“When I first joined the camp, I didn’t know Hindi,” revealed Keren. “And everybody here only knew Hindi. Now, I’m learning Hindi from them and they are learning English from me. Everybody is comfortable.”