Indian women’s national team forward Bala Devi, the first woman from to play professional football in Europe, is an inspiration for numerous budding players across the country and in a candid chat with AIFF TV, she revealed how she idolizes legendary boxer MC Mary Kom and how the two met and interacted at the Asian Games 2014 in Incheon.
“Mary Kom is a big source of inspiration for me. She came from such humble beginnings and through her hard work, she broke so many records. Even after becoming a mother, she continues to break records and win laurels for the country. We interacted at the Asian Games in 2014 and watched her train. She is a very friendly person and also supported us during our games,” Bala spoke about the record six-time World Champion and Olympic bronze medalist.
Earlier this year, in a watershed moment for Indian football, the attacker signed for Scottish side Rangers Women FC and credited the ‘international exposure’ provided by the federation as a key factor as Indian football moves forward together.
“I have represented India a lot. In my mind, I always wanted to play the international level and after the AIFF gave us so many international exposure tours, I gained a lot of experience of playing against European teams and I realized that I can play and compete with them,” quipped Bala.
“Then, I started seeking out teams and eventually chose to sign for Rangers as they are one of the best clubs in the world. I heard a lot about them and they also have a blue jersey like the Indian team,” she smiled.
Bala made her debut for Rangers FC in the Scottish Women’s Premier League in February, before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill. With the competition having resumed since October, the mercurial forward created history as she scored her first competitive goal for the club on Sunday in a win against Motherwell.
“Ever since I gave my trials at this club, I wanted to inspire every Indian player back home. I have always stayed positive and have wanted to be an inspiration for all the girls and young players in India who want to play internationally. It is something that has always been on my mind and I take it into account every time I step on to the pitch,” the 30-year-old averred.
Subsequently, the striker was named as a nominee for the AFC International Player of the Week alongside star names such as Iran’s Sardar Azmoun, Korea Republic’s Son Heung-min and Japanese icon Saki Kumagai.
“After the goal, a lot of people wished me and many were talking and writing about it, which made me feel very proud. After that, I was nominated for the AFC Player of the Week and seeing my name on the list alongside such icons made me happy. I just want everyone to continue supporting us so we can keep achieving bigger things for the country in the future,” Bala said.
In recent years, the women’s senior national team has made tremendous progress and played a number of exposure matches against top Asian opposition and even beyond. Bala hailed the role played by head coach Maymol Rocky and thanked her for ‘working hard’ for the team.
“Maymol ma’am has worked really hard for us and she has helped the team a lot since 2016. Under her, we have gained many memorable results. We have got many opportunities to play matches against big teams and she has worked really hard on us and I just want to thank her for that,” she stated.
Last year, they finished third at the COTIF Cup in Spain, where they faced off against Villarreal CF and national teams such as Bolivia and Spain U-19. Bala, who along with defender Ashalata Devi finished in the tournament’s Best XI, pointed towards the tournament as a turning point of sorts and stated that playing the likes of Villarreal was a ‘motivation booster’.
“When we played in Spain (in the COTIF Cup) in 2018, we couldn’t finish on the podium but then in the second time, we managed to come third. The organizers chose Ashalata and me for the tournament’s best XI and it was a huge thing for us. The match against Villarreal was a good motivation booster as we were playing against a good European team and you could see the positive frame of mind we all were in as we entered the match,” she recalled.