Some might call it chance and others destiny but football gave Laura Estibeiro the freedom to discover her passion. Hailing from a small village called Borla in Macazana, Goa, Laura was in her early teens when she started playing football with the boys. Her elder brother tried to discourage her since girls were not allowed to play football.
Her story took a turn for the better, though. She found an ally in her father, Salvador, who would take her to play football. Despite having had a surgery on his leg, he would take part in his daughter’s games as well. His passing a short while later was a great blow but Laura Estibeiro continued playing.
One day, a lady noticed her playing football with the boys. It was Maria Rebello, a former international player and a FIFA referee. Maria Rebello took her to participate in an exhibition match in Goa, where Laura performed well enough to impress her. Two days later, Maria invited her to the selections of the State team for the Senior National Championship.
At the trials, Laura Estibeiro encountered another problem. She did not have a pair of shoes. Maria Rebello spared her own pair of shoes so that Laura Estibeiro could play well even though the shoes were a size too large. On her maiden attempt, she was selected for the Goa team. Picked for the camp, Laura learnt the rules of football at the age of 17.
The year 1996-97 marked the beginning of her football career. Two decades later, at 37 years of age, she is part of the Maharashtra team. Along the way, she has played for many clubs in Mumbai, including the Football Leaders Academy.
Laura Estibeiro completed a football coaching in Australia and began coaching the boys and girls at the Goa United Sports Academy. Her ‘girls,’ as she affectionately calls them, won the Panchayat Level final and she took home the Best Coach prize. However, she turned down a lucrative coaching career to continue playing. “I left coaching because I wanted to play more football. I want to play till the day I die,” she says.
Commenting on the progress she has seen over the years, she says the situation has improved much since the time there was not much scope for women’s football. “Now, there are many clubs in India. Women have a greater scope for football in Mumbai, with many tournaments such as five- and seven-a-side. Because of that, I can still play football,” she says.
While women do have their share of tournaments, the number is way behind those for men. Prize money is another area where women play second fiddle. Laura Estibeiro is keen for the situation to improve. She would like equal rights for both men and women along with more tournaments for women, including the open Senior Women’s division.
Through her trials and tribulations and the landmarks crossed, Laura Estibeiro remains a humble and kind person. She ends the conversation with words of gratitude. “A special thanks to God for giving me these two people (Maria Rebello and her father Salvador Estibeiro). To them, for making a player,” she says.