Deena Rahman carries her passion for football out into the world
New world record in sight
Enthusiastic about developing women’s football in Bahrain
Penalty taking is not for everyone. When it comes to shouldering responsibility at penalties, some players confidently grab the ball, walk to the spot and bury it, while others would prefer to become invisible. But to voluntarily take penalties continuously for 24 hours? Sound unthinkable? Not for Deena Rahman.
“I'm not going to lie, I’m a bit crazy,” laughed Rahman during an interview with FIFA.com. The British woman has her sights set on breaking the world record for most penalties taken in 24 hours - an achievement that would not be her first record. Rahman has supported the Equal Playing Field (EPF) project for several years now, an initiative that paves the way for gender equality in sport and advocates for equal presence and respect, both on and off the pitch.
“My favourite of the records that have been done was climbing Kilimanjaro,” she said. “It took effort and it took real commitment for that record to happen. In life I embrace challenges. We played at the dead sea and it was the lowest altitude in the world. Last year in France we played the longest five-a-side match with the most players. My team - a group of five - played the longest stint. We took the night shift of seven hours from midnight to seven in the morning. They were struggling to fill that slot in the middle of the night. We loved it. As you can see, that's kind of my mentality.”
But why penalties, of all things?
“I was initially looking up all the kinds of football records and I applied for one which is the most penalties taken by the team in one hour,” she said. “I was still browsing when I saw the individual one and I thought: ‘that sounds like something I would like to do’. Again, I applied for it. When Laura from Equal Playing Field said to me that they wanted to do something for Guinness World Record Day (on 18 November) and asked if I would be interested, I said I definitely was. We had the initial meeting and to be honest we were going to go with the team one.”
That she ended up doing the individual event is largely due to the coronavirus pandemic, as it would be difficult to adhere to distancing regulations with so many players in a team taking as many penalties as possible. “I'll be honest: I didn't want the focus to be just on me doing it, but at the same time I love this kind of challenge. I'm already just excited by the prospect of getting through 24 hours of penalties. That’s just me, that's how I am.”
But where does this passion for sport come from that continually drives her to new heights? Rahman started playing football at the age of seven and was selected for England’s U-18 squad when she was 15, earning 18 caps for the team. In 1999 she became the first female player in Europe to earn a professional contact when she signed for Fulham.
“Unfortunately Fulham stopped the pro team and I went back to being an amateur,” the midfielder said. “I'm actually half Egyptian so my dad said: ‘If you don’t play for England, you play for Egypt.’ I went there and I played in Egypt for a year for a club (Wadi Degla Arsenal Soccer School) that was attached to the Arsenal football school. I was also involved in coaching the U-17 national team.”
A cruciate ligament tear forced her to return to England and recover, but she never entertained the idea of giving up on football.
While she was in Egypt, Rahman met her future husband Paul, who had been tasked with setting up an Arsenal football school in Bahrain. “I didn't even know were Bahrain was, but I found out,” she admitted with a laugh. “I was actually offered a job because they liked what they saw from my coaching. I started my job in January 2010 and continued to coach here and work for Arsenal for five years. During that time I started training with the national team in Bahrain, just to get fit again after my injury. They actually said that they wanted me to play for them. Once I’d completed all the formalities I ended up playing for the Bahrain national team, and I’ve enjoyed many tournaments with them.”
It is therefore no surprise that she is so passionate about the development of women’s football in Bahrain. Rahman has lived in the kingdom, which lies to the east of Saudi Arabia and west of Qatar, for the last ten years. “We set up our own academy called ‘Tekkers’ (Tekkers Academy Bahrain). We’ve been in operation for five years now and thankfully it's gone really well. We employ ten staff and we’re in seven locations around Bahrain. When I first came here I was probably coaching two girls and we now have over 200 in our programme and the rest are boys.”
It has not always been an easy path to get there. Rahman has had to break down barriers, build trust with people and persuade others.
“Once they realised that the girls are enjoying it, barriers really started breaking down and it just really kind of went from there,” she said. “Bahrain is a small place as well, which is good and we had word-of-mouth advertising. We managed to build a really good girls’ programme.”
Yet she was not content to stop there. “I set up the first Ladies League here. We’ve got between four and 12 teams. In one season I even had a team coming over from Saudi Arabia, which again is completely breaking down barriers because they're really strict there, but it’s easier now.
"I just think over time people have got more engaged that sport is good for women. They know that our programme is a good one and they are happy. We’ve also got a good mix. We have Bahrainis, people from around this region, and expats as well. It’s the social side and integrating different nationalities. It’s just been a win-win where people have seen the positive aspects of sport and it’s getting better and better all the time.”
If she is successful in breaking the world record and setting a new best-mark, it will undoubtedly give extra impulse to women’s football in Bahrain. We wish her the very best of luck.
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