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FORMER Bahrain football star Deena Rahman has paid a glowing tribute to the national squad by transforming her much-loved jerseys into a snug souvenir.
The 39-year-old hat-trick hero and former midfielder has put together her jerseys, accumulated over 10 years in Bahrain, into a cosy blanket that nurtures her nostalgia and keeps her warm in the UK.
“I got the idea from my mum who took a significant number of baby clothes from each of her grandchildren and turned them into blankets for them,” said Deena.
“I wondered if I could do the same with my football shirts and was elated when a company agreed to it. I created this blanket because I wanted to capture the amazing memories gained with the Bahrain squad, rather than have a bag full of shirts stuffed away in a cupboard never to be seen again.”
Deena’s footballing journey started in the UK when she was selected to play for England’s Under-16s and later the Under-18s, where she gained 18 caps. She even signed a professional contract with Fulham Ladies.
However, ankle injuries soon left her on the sidelines and she moved to Egypt with her dad Maher, who encouraged her to continue playing. Deena signed up for the Wadi Degla Club, associated with the Arsenal Soccer School in Egypt.
During her time there, she also took up coaching and helped the Under-20 national team. After one year of playing with the club, she suffered an agonising injury, yet again. She ruptured a ligament in her knee and had to return to England for rehabilitation.
It was during her coaching development in the UK that she got the opportunity to teach boys and girls from the ages of five to 19 in the Arsenal Soccer School, Bahrain.
When Deena arrived in Bahrain in 2010, she hadn’t played for two years owing to the two knee surgeries. She also had given up on any kind of playing career, let alone an international one, after the series of setbacks. Instead, she helped shape football for girls and women in the kingdom and was instrumental in organising the first competitive league for women in 2010. After training with the Bahrain national side in 2010 at the Bahrain Football Association headquarters in Riffa, team manager Shaikha Hussa bint Khalid Al Khalifa approached her, enquiring about the possibilities of joining the set-up full-time.
“Thankfully, Bahrain gave me a second shot at a playing career and I am grateful for those opportunities and experiences,” she added.
“I was quite emotional when I received the blanket as it has every match, tournament or training camp shirt from my debut through to our gold medal at the GCC games.”
Deena was also a former Bahrain academy football coach. During her time in the kingdom, she raised awareness about gender inequality in sport by notching five Guinness World Records. She participated in the highest altitude football match at the top of the 5,895m Mount Kilimanjaro and the lowest altitude match at the Dead Sea in Jordan. Her third and fourth records were in France in 2019 when she and other global football stars set a new achievement for having the most players and nationalities ever participating in an official match. She secured her fifth Guinness World Record by taking the most penalties ever in 24 hours. She smashed the previous best by hammering 7,876 penalties, as part of the Equal Playing Field’s challenge.
Deena is now enjoying the England life working for IDA sports that makes football boots for female players.
“I have watched IDA grow - from being an idea on Mount Kilimanjaro when we completed our first Guinness world record to a company with 10 variations of boots on the market,” she said.
“It’s exciting to give back to the game in a different way, when coaching has been my career for more than 20 years.”
That being said, she does miss her days with the Bahrain squad. “I miss playing for Bahrain, my team mates, the camaraderie, competition and everything you enjoy when playing a team sport,” Deena added.
“While I haven’t officially retired from the squad, I haven’t played since my last knee surgery in 2021 and at the ripe old age of 39, realistically, I don’t think it will happen. I also feel like I have an unfinished business with the squad, so maybe there is one more tournament left in me, if I become fit again.
“It was an honour to represent Bahrain and now I have a keepsake to remember a great football adventure.”
For details, follow @deenas10 on Instagram.