Doncaster Belles’ star Nadia Khan eyes international call up

Doncaster Belles’ star Nadia Khan eyes international call up

by Ali Ahsan

It’s not often you come across a Pakistani-origin footballer in England. Its even rarer to see one in the women’s football circuit. Meet 21-year-old Nadia Khan from Leeds. She is now an established star at Doncaster Rovers Belles FC who play in the FA Women’s National League Division 1 Midlands, the fourth tier of women’s football in England.

Nadia brings flair and skill to turn heads on the pitch. As a key attacking player for the Belles wearing the #7 shirt, one would expect her to go far with the club that has started to show more ambition and drive to succeed in the game.

FootballPakistan.Com had a brief chat with Nadia Khan discussing her career in football, her studies, as well as that goal she scored at the conclusion of the recent Division 1 Midlands season where the Belles just missed out on promotion to the third tier Premier Division.

Speaking of her journey, Nadia started out fairly late compared to most kids in England. “I was maybe 12-13 when I started playing football with my brothers at home in the garden. They taught me how to properly kick the ball, but I really loved it from the go.”

Her love for football would become a defining part of her life as she started playing local Sunday league matches, “As I gained confidence with the ball, I joined a small local club and ended up playing regularly there. Eventually I began to play more competitive football as I trialed for Leeds United’s Regional Training Centre. There I learned a lot of things about football as I was still fairly new to it. My time there was a rewarding and enjoyable experience before I ended up at the Belles.”

Nadia believes the two years she has spent at Doncaster Rovers Belles have been the highlight of her career so far under managers Andy Butler and Nick Buxton. “Playing under Butler and Buxton have been rewarding because they brought in a different view of football that we learned as a team, and I progressed a lot under their management. We just missed out on promotion this year, but next year should be our year Inshallah!”

Nadia does not shy away from claiming the 45-yard screamer she scored in the Belles 3-1 win over Solihull Moors Ladies on the final day of the 2021-22 Division 1 Midlands seasons that went viral on social media. “Obviously I meant that. The ball came to me nicely near the center circle and the manager wanted me to play it back, but I saw the other goalkeeper off her line. So, I thought, ‘why not?’ and put my foot through it and it went in! You don’t score those kinds of goals on a daily basis, so it was really nice to score one like that.”

Nadia Khan also has her own goal celebration whenever she scores, by pointing to the name KHAN and number 7 at the back of her shirt to show the world she means business.

Nadia Khan celebrates another goal. Pic credit: Doncaster Rovers Belles

The 21-year-old is also a full-time undergrad student at the University of Bradford where she will be graduating in the field of Accounting and Finance very soon. When it comes to balancing studies and football, having a clear mind is key is key. “It can be hard given you are training 2-3 times a week and then playing a match. But when you put your mind on what to do daily, you can find time the way I found time for studies, namaz five times daily, and football.”

While many young footballers also wanting to continue their education may end up applying for college soccer scholarships to U.S. universities, that never crossed Nadia’s mind, “I honestly never considered that as an option to explore, as football in the U.S. wasn’t something that interested me. But it’s something many should pursue if they can.”

It is almost cliche now but discussing female footballers cannot avoid the mention of Bend It Like Beckham – the 2002 hit sports-comedy movie about a young British Indian Sikh girl dreaming to become a footballer. Nadia smiled at how people around her always seem to mention it. “Yes, I’ve seen it, and many say my life is almost like it in parallel. Bend It Like Beckham always seems to inspire fellow Asian kids, especially girls growing up.”

A big fan of former England women’s international Sue Smith who also played much of her career at Doncaster Rover Belles, Nadia recently played with her for a charity football event. “She is just so inspiring and the way she played the game at her age at this level is just incredible.” The likes of Gareth Bale and Neymar Jr. are also Nadia’s favourites.

Nadia Khan on the attack. Pic credit: Doncaster Rovers Belles

Nadia knows how rare it is to see South Asian origin footballers in the UK, but that only made her want to be among the first in the community actively playing in the women’s circuit. Tremendous support from the family and friends only drove her to excel in the sport. “My parents have always been extremely supportive and proud of my football career. My mum is always in the stands whenever I play at home while my dad always attends my training sessions with the club. They are just so proud seeing me play and score. I think such support and playing the sport brings you some real confidence and experiences in many ways, like communication with others, meeting new people, and being more involved with the team.”

Speaking of her Pakistani heritage, Nadia revealed both her parents trace their roots to near Lahore and Gujranwala, with her father being born in Pakistan. “I’ve never had the chance to visit Pakistan ever but would honestly love to see the country someday. Me and my family are proud of our roots.”

Nadia Khan also stated that while she hasn’t yet met the likes of Aqsa Mushtaq (Avantes Chalkida), Mariam Mahmood (West Bromwhich Albion), Hajrah Mahmood (Burton Albion), and Layla Banaras (Birmingham City) or other female footballers of Pakistani origin in England, she would love to meet up with them. “It will be great to meet and network with people who get what you’ve been through and share our experiences and difficulties knowing there aren’t many female British Asian/Pakistani footballers out there.”

What does the future hold for Nadia Khan? “I see myself continuing playing football, maybe also working full-time in accounting. Hopefully I can also move to a higher club and play at a higher level too. I wouldn’t mind playing in other leagues across Europe either. I’d love to also play international football someday, either for England or for Pakistan. That would be an amazing experience playing for your country. I mean I still have family in Pakistan, so they can watch me play for them and hopefully other Asian footballers in UK also take note.”

Nadia Khan during a match. Pic credit: Julian Barker & Doncaster Free Press

With the recent lifting of the FIFA ban on Pakistan, the national women’s team is expected to end its eight-year hiatus by taking part in the upcoming 2022 SAFF Women’s Championship in Nepal from Aug 29 till Sep 10.

The PFF NC would be wise to seriously approach eligible diaspora talent like Nadia Khan for the for these events. Such recruitment can give a tremendous boost for the Pakistan women’s team in terms of quality and ability to progress in the game.

The future is promising and if Nadia decides to choose Pakistan internationally, getting a Pakistani passport via her parents to ensure her eligibility is sorted would be a necessary first step.