Her arrival at West Ham Ladies in August saw Aditi Chauhan unwittingly thrust into the spotlight as she became the first Indian woman to play in English league football. In what she describes as a ‘crazy’ period, she’d gone from a foreign exchange student at Loughborough University to international football star, Indian role model and self-driven ambassador for women’s sport.
Fast forward to the end of November and the shotstopper was back in the headlines after again creating history by scooping the Woman in Football award at the third Asian Football Awards. The 23-year-old collected her award at a ceremony at Wembley Stadium as part of an evening that recognised the achievements of British Asians in football.
‘It’s been a great journey since I arrived in England,’ she told Blowing Bubbles. ‘I came here to complete a masters degree in sports management at Loughborough University and now I’m playing for West Ham. ‘To have been recognised at the Asian Football Awards and to have gone to collect the award at Wembley, which is such an iconic place, it really was the icing on the cake.
Despite making the headlines in England and India twice in only a few months, the 23-year-old remains impressively grounded as she refused to hold back her determination and passion to achieve her dreams and, more importantly for herself, achieve a better standard of football for the female game worldwide. ‘I never expected any of this to have happened,’ she continued. ‘My focus was just on playing for West Ham, which was a dream come true because it was not something I could have done except dream about in India.
‘But I’m glad that I’ve been able to path a way for ladies in India, and that I am in a position to inspire the young boys and girls back home.’ She added: ‘I had such a warm welcome from the fans of West Ham when I joined and now before every game, I get so many good luck messages – it’s just incredible. ‘I certainly think West Ham have got more fans in India now because I’m playing for the Ladies. The Premier League is very popular in India but to have me playing for West Ham, I think it has really helped raise the club’s profile over there.’
Chauhan, who has represented her country in international tournaments, made her Hammers debut in a 5-0 defeat to Coventry and, despite her positivity, admitted the months that followed proved equally as tough, culminating in the departure of six senior players, including captain Stacey Little.
But after picking up a point against Brighton and Hove Albion last month before narrowly losing away to the league leaders and also to rivals Spurs, Chauhan is hopeful the Ladies will pick up points this month. ‘There have been some good performances lately and I’m enjoying every game, and making some good saves,’ she said. ‘As a team, I feel we’ve been growing and getting better in every training session and game since we had a few girls leave last month.
‘Brighton are a very strong side so to have got a draw with them was a brilliant result and then although we lost 1-0 to them, I felt I played very well to keep the score down to 1-0. ‘We have got some tough games coming up in December and the start of January but we have a chance of picking up three points in some and we will certainly do our best.
‘We know we are lacking in some areas but we are working hard to improve on them and looking to pick up some better results and move up the league. As for me, I absolutely love it at West Ham. ‘I couldn’t be happier. The only thing on my mind off the pitch is getting my visa sorted so that I can stay and play for West Ham.
The 23-year-old’s student visa runs out at the end of January and the club is unable to sponsor her application for a work visa as the Ladies are in the third tier of women’s football and classed to be semi-pro. Her brother, Aaditya, has launched a petition backing her, which has so far attracted almost 1,000 signatures, and Chauhan is considering whether to apply for an exceptional talent visa or a temporary worker visa. ‘I’m keeping positive about this situation but I’ve not had any leads yet,’ she added. ‘I don’t really know what is destined for me but right now I’m focused on sorting out my issues off the pitch.’