Bala Devi (centre) won the AIFF Women’s Player of the Year award in 2015 and 2016. – M. MOORTHY
For Ngangom Bala Devi, boxing giant M. C. Mary Kom is an inspiration. Her ability to juggle between boxing, parenting and public life has “motivated” Devi to write a story of her own.
“[Mary Kom] is such a legend. I am only amazed at how she manages boxing and all other important things even now, she is mother to three children. She inspires me,” Devi told PTI.
Devi recently made history by signing up with Rangers FC, a Scottish club, to become the first Indian woman to play outside India professionally.
Football has been Devi’s “life,” a partner whose all-encompassing presence often make her feel the world starts and ends with it. So much so that she has also never felt the need to get married, start a family of her own and then begin another innings, just like her role model Mary Kom.
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The Manipuri footballer, from Irengbam in Bishnupur district, is the youngest of four siblings. She turned 30 on Sunday. Asked if she planned to get married in the near future, she responded in the negative.
‘Focus only on football’
Devi said she gazes in astonishment at the 36-year-old Mary Kom’s indomitable spirit to continue and add to her six World Championship gold medals and an Olympic bronze, for she herself cannot imagine thriving in sport while being a wife and mother. “I have never thought about marriage and all, my parents also never tried to convince me. My focus is only on football. That is all,” said Devi.
Devi also looks up to the great Oinam Bembem Devi. “I have learnt so much from didi (Bembem Devi), she has been there from the time I started,” said Devi.
Bembem Devi (in picture, receiving the Arjuna award) is also one of Bala Devi’s idols. – R. V. MOORTHY
Currently employed with Manipur police as a constable, Devi credited her father for backing her all along. “There is still long way to go but without my father’s support, I would say I would not have come this far. He was the one who would take me to football matches in the locality. Being a footballer himself, he understood my passion,” she said.
Time of struggle
While her life has been documented since she signed on the dotted lines for Rangers, Devi recalled the time of struggle when she would not have enough to buy herself football kits. She remembered the days when she would go out and find herself playing among boys in her locality before eventually forming an all-girls team called ICSA.
Things gradually began to change after she represented Manipur in the U-19 nationals in 2001-02. But her career got the much-needed impetus when she was called up to the senior Indian team, aged just 15. She is now the current top-scorer for India, netting 52 times in 58 games, and is also the top international goal scorer in the South Asian region.
She was named the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) Women’s Player of the Year twice — in 2015 and 2016 — and has been the top-scorer in the Indian Women’s League for the past two seasons.
She will also be remembered as the first Asian footballer at Rangers FC.