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She bends it like Beckham

Thousands of Asian girls who went to see the quirky British hit Bend It Like Beckham might have come away from the cinema thinking, "I wish I could do that." Aman Kaur Dosanj, 18, a Southampton-based Sikh girl, left the cinema thinking, "I've done that." The feel-good storyline is a reflection of her life.
The film is about an 18-year-old Sikh girl who, unknown to her parents, plays football for a women's team, sneaking away from family weddings for practice. A talent scout spots her, and she eventually wins a scholarship to play football in America, prompting a family reconciliation.
Aman's extraordinary success story is one of the most uncanny examples of life imitating art. In almost every respect, the film mirrors her own experience. Like Jess Bhamra, her cinematic alter ego, Aman learnt to play in her back garden, excelled in a male-dominated sport and, while doing her A levels, won a sports scholarship to Lee University in Cleveland, the USA.
"The writer-director of the film, Gurinder Chadha, knew nothing about me when making the film, which makes it even more strange," says Aman. A major difference, though, is that Aman never had to conceal her love for football from her parents. "I have always had the support from my family which is vital to achieve and succeed in anything in life," she says.
Aman is a goalkeeper unlike Jess who is a forward, but she can, she says, bend the ball in the air when she takes a free kick like England captain David Beckham. She began goalkeeping for her elder brother, Harprit, when she was five years old. At 6, she was, to her mother's surprise, the only girl in her infant school football team.
At 16, while playing for the Southampton Reserves Ladies team, Aman got a call to play for the national Under-16 team the first ever Asian to play football for England. She made a series of eye-catching saves in a five-nation tournament playing the US, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. "It was the best I ever played," recalls Aman. She went on to play two seasons with Arsenal Ladies one of the top teams in the country.
I always support the men's Indian team when it tours England!
"When I went to India for Christmas, I watched a few matches on television and felt that it is excellent to see women's football getting the publicity that it deserves," says Aman about the state of the game in India. "The game is not as advanced as in England or the US, but is slowly improving. Perhaps a European coach might help." Would she like to play for India? "To be honest, my heart is set on playing for England, and, maybe, play in the World Cup one day, which I may not have the chance to do with India," says Aman. "But I always support the men's Indian team when it tours England!"
Aman's father, Surjit Singh Dosanj (Serge), was born in Fiji but the family moved to Britian when he was four. Her mother, Jasbiner Kaur Dosanj, beautician and henna specialist, came to the UK at 18. Aman, however, can't wait to take up her scholarship in the US, where her arrival is keenly awaited by Lee University's soccer team, which lacked a decent goalkeeper last season. She won't just play ball, though.
Aman will be doing a BS degree in physical education combined with a minor in business studies. "I hope to achieve a lot from the experience, both academically and on the pitch," says Aman. "I would like to become a better player, gain more experience as a goalkeeper and hopefully get scouted by one of the professional teams in the Women's United Soccer Association league."
Aman has always admired David Seaman, the Arsenal and England goalkeeper, and his photos are all over her bedroom wall another small departure from the film. Jess's bedroom is plastered with photos of Beckham.
Parminder Nagra, 28, who plays Jess in the film, spent eight weeks with a Brazilian coach learning to play the game, prior to filming. "There is a little stutter in her run-up for the free kick, but she's not bad for just eight weeks' coaching," says Aman. Parminder is delighted that the film has proved to be not just pure fantasy. "I think it is brilliant that there is someone out there who is so close to the story, who is going out to the US and pursuing her dream," she says. "Good for Aman, I hope she does really well."

Jon Stock
appeared in The Week on July 21, 2002.

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