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Never Underestimate Resilience - or the determination of Iqra Ismail

29 April 2020

Never Underestimate Resilience - or the determination of Iqra Ismail

Iqra Ismail - founder of Never Underestimate Resilience (NUR) Women's Football Club

It's a story all too familiar to many girls and women still: you're told "girls can't play football" and are expected to accept that as your lot. 

As an eight-year-old, those words spoken by a teacher to Iqra Ismail stung her into action.

Determined to play the game she loved, the UK-born Somali was not to be deterred - and what began as a hobby grew into a passion for the beautiful game.

At the age of 14 Iqra, who grew up in Southall, west London, joined her first club where the club kit consisted of shorts, a T-shirt and long socks. When she asked what the alternatives were for her, the coach replied, "I don't know. I've never had a Muslim player before."

Iqra said, "That's when I realised that as a black, Muslim, hijab-wearing girl, I became the 'other'."

As she grew older, Iqra continued to try and progress in football and by the age of 16, she had developed to such a high standard that an American club offered her a contract.

But the upturn in racism and Islamophobia that went hand in hand with Donald Trump's presidential campaign concerned her mum so much that Iqra's dream move didn't take place.

Fast forward a couple of years and while studying for a degree in psychology and sociology, Iqra joined the University of Portsmouth football team - but at times was still feeling that she "didn't quite belong".

"When I was younger, I had a couple of trials and I used to discuss this a lot with my friends," she told FIFA.com.

"We'd say, 'We're not accepted here, but one day we'll have a place where we are accepted and where these girls can play and feel comfortable.' I remember saying, 'When we've established our careers and have saved a lot of money, we can do it then'. And then it hit me last year. I held a tournament and I remember seeing a lot of girls there.

"The demand was a lot higher than I thought it was and many of the girls have genuine talent. They just needed somewhere to express it."

Instead of sitting on her laurels, Iqra engaged in a lengthy discussion with two of her close friends in April last year - Amirah Jama and Badra Osman - and a seed was sown.

On 21 June 2019, just two months after these first conversations, the women's football club Never Underestimate Resilience, or NUR, was born specifically for black and minority ethnic (BAME) women.

After the first training session it was clear that NUR was not just a pipe dream, it had struck a real chord in the community.

"When we had that first session on 21 June, it really came to light how much football is needed," said Iqra, who has the FA Level 1 coaching certificate. "And it continued to grow like that. It started with 15 girls, then 18, 23 and 40. It really grew exponentially and in a way I never thought it would.

"It's a mad concept for me to believe that something like this that was so blatantly needed hadn't been provided before.

"But maybe it was only blatant to me how needed it was because I was on the inside of things. I'm glad to be the person to have done it. But if it wasn't me, I would have wanted it to be someone else. I just want the girls to play and have that environment.

"The biggest battle has definitely been as a Muslim woman," Iqra continued. "Women's football is growing, but to be fair it is growing mainly for the white community and for people that have more privilege and standing in their community, and can get away with a bit more, essentially. As a Muslim woman there are more restrictions, more stereotypes - and not just from my own community but from the rest of the world as well.

"It is difficult because, for example, my kit has to be a bit different. I can't wear shorts and stuff like that because of my religious beliefs. That's something I have to explain because I'm playing football but also I'm a bit different to the rest of the people playing. It isn't a big difference but it's just a little miscommunication that happens sometimes and reminds me that I'm not the same as everyone else."

To read more about Iqra's story please click here.

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