When little Mukarama fathomed the unthinkable idea of playing football in her area in Tamale, little did she know the game she secretly admired, which her mother objected to with so much verve, would propel her to national and global fame.
Indeed, what started as just a hobby and a mere back-yard kick about with boys in her neighbourhood is turning out to be a full-blown profession for Abdulai Mukarama, Ghana’s captain, leader and scorer at the ongoing FIFA Under 17 Women’s World Cup in Uruguay.
Muka, as she’s affectionately called by her colleagues, is in irrepressible form at the global tournament. After smashing a hat-trick in the Black Maidens’ opening match against hosts Uruguay, Mukarama scored one in the next game against Finland before hitting a remarkable brace against New Zealand in the final group match to take her tally to six goals.
Abdulai Mukarama leaves an Uruguay player sprawling during the Black Maidens’ match with the hosts Uruguay.
She’s now the tournament’s leading scorer going into Ghana’s quarterfinal match with Mexico on Sunday, and on the evidence of her swashbuckling display so far, the Maidens’ hope rests largely on her tiny shoulder.
According to Mukarama, playing football just happened and she developed the love for it.
“It just happened, and I had the passion for football,” she told The Zongo Mail in an exclusive interview.
“Seeing boys around playing football, I would just go and join them and we will start kicking together. I just loved football when I was so small,” Muka fondly remembers.
But like many young girls within her community, playing football was unthinkable due to many factors including strict parental objection.
Young Mukarama faced all these barriers and her biggest obstacle was her mother.
“It wasn’t easy for me becoming a footballer because my mother hated it,” she says.
“My mum always stopped me from going to play and I had to sneak out of the house because she wouldn’t allow me. Or if she sent me to go and dump refuse, I would use the opportunity to go and play football.”
However, football, the game Mukarama’s mother despised with passion, has become the proverbial cornerstone in shaping Mukarama’s life. The stone has now been warmly embraced by the very people who rejected it, led by the most important person in Mukarama’s life, her mother.
“Now, my mum is my biggest fan. Together with my brothers, they have been so supportive, especially during this World Cup,” she says with a smile of appreciation.
“Coming into the World Cup, I told them I was having problems with my finishing but they kept encouraging me that I can do it.”
Mukarama celebrates one of her six goals with her teammates
“They always communicate with me and they always motivate me. I’m told that whenever I miss a goalscoring chance and everyone starts to shout, my mum would defend me and ask them not to insult me. I love my siblings so much.”
FOOTBALL AND EDUCATION
One of the reasons Mukarama’s mother objected to her playing football was the fear that it could curtail her education; both formal and Islamic.
However, at a point in Mukarama’s development, she had to drop out of school to enable her single mother fund her other siblings’ education due to limited funding following the death of her father.
“I had to sacrifice and stay at home so that my other siblings could be taken care of by my mother, who didn’t have enough money to take care of all of us,” Mukarama recollects.
Dropping out of school was a drawback for her, but it also offered her the opportunity and more time to play football amidst all the objections. And when she got back to school later, she had been engulfed in football so much that she had to find the right balance for football and school; something she still does.
Mukarama in action for her local side, Northern Ladies in the Ghana Women’s League
“Combining education with football hasn’t been easy,” she laments.
“But I had to stop going to school in the afternoon so I could go to training in the afternoon after going to school in the morning. So far as I had chosen football and education, I had to combine the two.”
Mukarama didn’t blink an eye before naming Portuguese legend, Cristiano Ronaldo as her biggest fan in football. The four-time Fifa Player of the Year is renowned for smashing records, and it is no surprise Muka is emulating her idol and setting high standards in goal-scoring.
In spite of her admiration for Ronaldo, there is a local icon who really inspired young Mukarama in not giving up football at an early age.
“There is one person who has really inspired me. She is Sister Sadia, who used to play for Lepo Ladies.”
“I always looked up to her and admired her so much.; she was strong and she was always able to combine football with her other responsibilities as a woman. Looking at her in the national team and coming back home was always an inspiration to me.”
FOCUS ON ON-GOING FIFA UNDER 17
Mukarama is setting remarkable standards and grabbing the headlines in the on-going tournament in Uruguay, but her main focus is the team’s success, and she reveals their quest to surpass the Maidens’ bronze medal in the 2012 edition of the competition in Azerbaijan.
“We are having the aim of getting to the top as a team,” she says.
“This particular team is determined to do well and set a good record which many teams will aspire to equal or beat.”
Having progressed to the quarterfinals with an impeccable record from the group stage, Mukarama and her Maidens will continue with their World Cup dream when they face Mexico in the quarterfinals on Sunday.
GOAL CELEBRATIONS, A DEDICATION TO ALLAH
One of the iconic images of the 2018 Fifa Under-17 Women’s World Cup has been Mukarama’s sujood (prostrating) to celebrate her goals. She explains that it is a thankful gesture to the Almighty Allah.
“I always think scoring is from the Almighty Allah. He has been the one giving me the goals so I have to give thanks to Him by doing that.”
ADVICE TO ASPIRING YOUNG MUSLIMS
Mukarama believes there are several female talents in the north and the Zongos throughout the country, but reckons they may not realize their talents due to some of the barriers she encountered.
Despite scaling over the hurdle to at least get to where she is now with her football dream, one of Mukarama’s biggest regrets is that football has not allowed her to get to the level she would have loved to be in Islamic education (Makaranta), and she hopes to go back.
“I believe there are many talented young footballers among a lot of Northern and Zongo ladies but only a few take up football,” she says.
“I don’t know why but I think it has got to do with many reasons including the way footballers dress, which is at variance with how we (Muslim ladies) are actually expected to dress.”
“In my case, I was in Makaranta but football drove me away from where I was supposed to be in Makaranta and it is probably the reason a lot of young ladies don’t get into football. How we dress is the problem.”
Mukarama, however, advises young female footballers to remain committed if playing football is what they want to do.
“Just keep your faith and be prayerful. Maybe this is what God has sent you to do,” she advised.
Mukarama’s football career may still be at its developmental stage, but she couldn’t have envisaged a better progress than the sensational run she’s having in Uruguay.
On the account of her remarkable exploits in Uruguay, many expect her to grow into a top player for Ghana’s other national female teams, the Black Princesses and the Black Queens. Whether that will happen, only time will tell.
For now, she remains Ghana’s golden Maiden; our captain, leader and scorer.
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