It’s not every day that Indians hear that one of their fellow nationals has scored a goal in a European professional league. But Indian national women’s football team forward Bala Devi made it possible when she scored on her debut for Scottish Club Rangers FC against Motherwell. The 30-year-old Indian forward, who has scored 55 goals for the national team, says she understands the responsibility on her shoulders when she is playing abroad and the impetus it can give to the future of women’s football in India. In this interview with Arindam Roy, Bala Devi, talks about her career, life in Scotland, and the future of women’s football in India. Edited excerpts:
How did you feel after you scored your first goal for Rangers?
I was ecstatic, being first Indian to score a goal in a European Professional League. Countless hours of training and hard work finally paid off and I’m sure my friends and everyone would’ve been proud of me. I hope to score many more goals for the club and hopefully win the league with them.
When did you get to know that Rangers were looking for you? How does it feel now that you’re a part of the team?
I had gone to Kolkata for a photoshoot for Women In Sports India. There, I met Anuj Kichlu, who asked me if I was interested for trials in Rangers FC. I tried out for the team in November 2018.
Signing a professional contract with a European club makes me feel this is both a victory and a responsibility for me. I am representing my nation on the global stage. It’s a huge responsibility on my shoulders.
What has the management been like in Scotland? How did your new teammates receive you?
The manager/coach and the overall management were very friendly and helpful during my trials.
Scotland is a different country and a whole new experience. There are many players from Canada, the US, and France. All my teammates are very helpful and we learn a lot from each other. They made me feel comfortable during my initial period here in Scotland. It’s a huge challenge for me, but I am gaining a lot of experience from them as well.
Your first major call up was when you were 15. How has your journey been so far?
My football journey has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. I started playing district-level matches for my local club at the age of 11 and after a string of good performances, I joined the Indian national team at the age of 15 in 2005. I have not looked back since, scoring 55 goals for my country and also captaining my side in many tournaments. To be a part of the European club is like a dream come true for me.
What attracted you to football?
Back in my hometown of Manipur, I would spend countless hours playing football with the neighborhood boys during my childhood days.
My father also loved to play football and I picked up the sport very quickly from him. My family was always very supportive of me and so this paved the path for me to play professional football.
Now that you have played in both India and Scotland, what would you say is the difference?
The Scottish league is very professional. The game here is played with a bit more physicality. The players are strong and well-conditioned. I think India is picking up pace now in terms of player welfare and development.
India does have professional help coming in and also in-house experienced coaches. They are well on their way to becoming a competitive team on the global stage.
What’s the difference in terms of infrastructure, monetary support, culture? How well are you coping with the new conditions?
Rangers FC have world class facilities for their players and for their management as well. They lay utmost importance on player welfare and this is something that every club should strive for. They have excellent training facilities, with coaches looking into every position specific plays.
They have a very rich heritage when it comes to football, and to step into the IBROX is an achievement in itself. Many football greats have come out of this club and have also played on this ground.
The Indian women's team has done reasonably well and our rankings are also quite good. But where do you think we are lacking?
India is doing phenomenal work with regards to developing women’s football and will definitely reap results in the coming future. More tournaments and tours, along with local leagues, will help expose raw talent which can be polished for the national and international stage. Access to better playing facilities will go a long way in developing the sport in India.
The U-17 Women’s World Cup is going to be held next year in India. This is a very good opportunity for young footballers to showcase their talent on the global stage. It will also inspire a lot of upcoming women footballers to take up the sport professionally.