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Afghanistan captain Shabnam Mobarez on a footballing mission in Denmark

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Afghanistan captain Shabnam Mobarez on a footballing mission in Denmark
 In many countries women who play football have to battle against negative attitudes but in arguably one of the most oppressive nations for women, still engulfed in war, where the Taliban no longer rule but their legacy and presence run deep, football can be life or death. Even so, in Afghanistan, where being seen in public without a man is taboo, a group of women are rebelling through their love of the game.

Shabnam Mobarez is the captain of the Afghanistan women’s team. An Afghan refugee who moved to Denmark with her family three years after her father had fled there to escape war, Mobarez has spent time in the country of her birth to find out more about the struggles of her team-mates. “I was in Afghanistan two months ago before our training camp in Jordan,” she says. “I went to see how hard it is for Afghan players, who live in Afghanistan, to get to training and just live like a regular player. The situation was very bad in my opinion, very sad. Going to practice is such a huge challenge because they face so many things on the way.
“We were afraid some of our players wouldn’t show up after a bomb blast in the city and were super afraid. These are the things they have in the back of their minds every time they leave their homes. For me to live that, only for three weeks, was horrible. How are they doing this incredible job? That’s the passion they have for the game.”
Having moved to Denmark aged six, Mobarez found playing football much easier but she still feared her parents’ views: “It’s funny because most footballers’ stories start like this. I started playing with boys from my block, on the street, then a Danish coach was walking by with her dog and said: ‘Hey, I have a club for you, come join.’
“I was very afraid in the beginning – were my parents going to accept it? So I used to go to practices hiding it from my parents but once they were involved they were actually fully supportive.”
Mobarez could have chosen to play for Denmark but a strong connection to her place of birth and a desire to be involved in change powered her decision. “We are trying to bring something positive to the country,” the 22-year-old says. “These women are so brave they inspire me to do better and, because I live in a safe country, to work harder for them.”
Denmark reached the final of Euro 2017, losing 4-2 to the Netherlands, and have agreed a new four-year deal for improved pay and conditions for the national team. Mobarez, who plays in Aalborg, is proud to be playing in a much more forward-thinking country: “Denmark is one of the best countries for women footballers. They have a lot of attention for the girls right now with the Danish national team doing so well.”
Handed the Afghanistan captaincy in 2016, Mobarez is keen to give refugee children in Denmark the experiences she has had. “I volunteer coach at a refugee camp,” she says. “I’m doing it to make changes. I used to be a refugee and I don’t want the kids to go with a bad experience being a refugee. They need to smile every day and feel safe.
“For most of the girls it’s expected that, if you come from a Middle Eastern country, you have to behave ‘like a girl’. Me going in and telling them my story and how far I’ve got with my football, choosing football, I think that’s a brilliant image to put out there.
“You see the girls’ eyes go big, they want to be like you. Being a role model is amazing. I think that football gives them confidence and a feeling that nothing can limit them, that they can do whatever they want. They shouldn’t be limited by the fact they are girls.”
Afghanistan, unable to train as a full team at home, have met for training camps and games in places such as the US, Germany, Jordan and the Netherlands. The team, coached by the American Kelly Lindsey, who has not set foot in the country since taking over in 2016 because of safety concerns, have risen from 128 in the Fifa world rankings to 106. “Working with Kelly Lindsey is one of the greatest things and I can say on behalf of the entire team that we’re so grateful and blessed to have her with us,” Mobarez says. “She’s been the reason we’ve improved as a team and individually. In my personal life I’ve become a better person and a better leader.
“Kelly’s been a big inspiration for me and she’s also the reason why I joined the Equal Playing Field Jordan Quest [where women from more than 22 countries broke the world record for the lowest altitude football match one year after doing the highest, at Kilimanjaro].
“Even though she’s not Afghan, she feels strongly about Afghan women, she wants us to succeed and she’s working so hard behind the scenes of each training camp to develop us as individuals and as a team. I can only imagine what it’s like for her. Every time we come to a training camp we don’t know if everyone will be able to show up – she has to deal with that.”
Talking points
• The Phil Neville effect is strong. First, former club Manchester United announced they would be launching a women’s team, now Salford City are setting up a side. Salford City Lionesses will begin playing in the 2018-19 season.
• The Arsenal captain, Alex Scott, was at the Emirates on Sunday to be honoured alongside Arsène Wenger and Vic Akers before her retirement at the end of the season. Presented with a silver cannon, the defender tweeted: “I just want to say a MASSIVE THANK YOU to all the @Arsenal fans for what was truly an amazing/unforgettable reception yesterday!!”
• Utah Royals, the new NWSL franchise, got their first ever win when they beat Washington Spirit 2-0 on Saturday – Kelley O’Hara scoring her first goal of the season before Diana Matheson chipped goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe for the second. Elsewhere Seattle Reign beat Portland Thorns 3-2 in front of 16,000, Houston Dash beat Sky Blue by the same scoreline and Chicago Red Stars held leaders North Carolina Courage to a 1-1 draw. The Chicago goalkeeper, Alyssa Naeher, was the hero with 12 saves, some pretty spectacular, to earn the point.
• Uefa has revealed that England’s Sian Massey will referee the Women’s Champions League final between holders Lyon and Wolfsburg on 24 May in Kiev.
• Manchester City beat Bristol City 6-1 on Thursday to move above leaders Chelsea on goal difference. Bristol put the loss behind them three days later when Julie Biesmans scored in the 92nd minute to give them a 2-1 win over Everton and lift them above their opponents into eighth.
 Theguardian