Mirona Khatun is barely noticeable when she sits in the Dhaka City Football Club dugout. A slight physique of 4ft 8in, Mirona is hidden behind the more imposing and authoritative figures of her coaching staff. Even as she celebrates a goal, jumping up and down the sideline, it is difficult to notice her.
What makes her stand out, though, is the fact that she is the first woman to sit in the dugout of a professional football club in Bangladesh as a head coach. Although her role is still very much confined to being an understudy to coach Abu Noman Nannu, she harbours the dream of one day taking the reins at the top division in domestic football -- the Bangladesh Premier League.
HOW THE JOURNEY STARTED:
Mirona comes from a poor family in a village in Bagerhat, with a brother the only other among her five siblings to be involved in sporting activities. She is not quite cut out for football, but she possesses athleticism, which helped her win many awards and trophies in different sports at school level and then at district level. Her move to football took place when she showed up for a talent-hunt programme for the Citycell National Women's Football League in 2008 in Khulna. As women's football was still at a nascent stage at that time, her talent and athleticism were instantly rewarded.
"One of my teachers told me to go to the trial for the Citycell National Championship in Khulna. I went there and got selected. From there I came to Dhaka and impressed, being called up for the national women's team's camp in 2009 for the 2010 SA Games," the-now Championship League club's coach reflected on her early sporting years.
There was no looking back for her on the football pitch with the national team for the next seven years, but off the pitch there was a lot of uncertainty which held her back from fulfilling the promise she showed at the highest level.
"During those times women's football was not very widespread and there were hardly any matches for us except for the national team. So there were no earning options for us, which made me apply for a job in the Bangladesh Navy in 2014," Mirona explained.
THE JUGGLING ACT AND THE FIRST STEPS IN COACHING:
While still a full-time footballer of the national team, Mirona continued to be an equally good, if not better, exponent of athletics. She kept participating in national athletics meets, on the way racking up many medals of all three colours, including 13 golden ones over a career which spanned nearly 10 years.
Her first step into football coaching came accidentally. In 2013, Mirona and a number of her peers were cajoled into taking an AFC C License course, the first step to professional football coaching in Asia, by the high-ups of the Bangladesh Football Federation. Little she did know at that time that it would be a stepping stone to a whole new world.
While she remained busy with her commitments to football, athletics and the Navy for the next five years, she realised in 2018 at the age of 25 that she might not have it in her for much longer to deliver on either the football pitch or the athletics track. So she took the timely initiative of going for the AFC B License course, which would eventually catapult her into making history in Bangladesh football.
"Although Mirona is very introverted and shy, she always had the thirst for knowledge. That is what drove her, along with two other female footballers, to successfully pass the AFC B License course. Mirona was one of the fastest players on the pitch during her football career, and I believe she would make a good coach if given the proper guidance and assistance from senior coaches," Bangladesh Football Federation's former strategic director BA Jubair Nipu, who oversaw Mirona's football career as well as her coaching courses, opined.
DHAKA CITY FC COME CALLING:
A few retired Navy officers decided to form a football club, with the aim to establish an academy which would produce young players for the future. Formed in 2017, the club enlisted for the Bangladesh Championship League, the second-tier professional league, with an experienced coaching staff in the dugout. As luck would have it, though, none of the coaching staff -- including would-be head coach Nannu -- had an AFC B License, a requirement made mandatory for head coaches by the AFC, the continental governing body of football.
Mirona's job in the Navy and her B License came in handy in this case. The management of the club spent no time in signing the female footballer up ahead of their debut season, penning the deal on December 24, 2018. The deal benefitted both sides -- the club got the name with the license to put on their team sheet while Mirona got the perfect platform to learn the traits of top-level coaching from close up.
Shamsuddoza Khan, the club's general secretary, explained the move. "Mirona is a very good coach. She may lack experience, but she has the knowledge and the brain. We did not consider whether she is a male or female, our consideration was her talent."
Mirona's coronation was complete when she stepped up in the club's first match of the season against Farashganj SC on February 11, 2019.
STILL SOME WAY TO THE DREAM:
The first female coach of a Bangladesh Championship League team, though, understands her status and the not-so-solid footing which she currently stands on. She perfectly realises the fact that she is not much more than a symbolic figurehead at a club with lofty ambitions. But she is willing to take the challenge and embark on the long route to her dream, that of becoming a head coach of a Premier League club, with enough authority and expertise so that she would be regarded in the same light as her peers, and not just bracketed as a female figurehead. She believes "this is a learning experience" which will help her in future when she leads from the dugout in BCL or the BPL one day.