India isn’t known for being a footballing powerhouse, but India sure does have a great footballing culture, with clubs having the support of millions, a derby with the potential of starting riots, and now, a well-organized league with world-class foreigners. From time to time, Indian footballers have played in the European leagues, however rare it may have been. Mohammed Selim was the first Indian to play in Europe, for the legendary Celtic FC of Scotland, though a barrage of homesickness meant he couldn’t have success there. Bhaichung Bhutia played for lower-division English team Bury FC. Sunil Chhetri played for the reserves of Sporting Lisbon, and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu found success in Norwegian club Stabaek, even to the extent of starting in an Europa League qualification match.
Now, the 29 year-old Ngangom Bala Devi becomes the first Indian woman to ever play in Europe, that too for none other than Rangers, the Scottish Club well known all over the world, and the long-standing rival of Selim’s Celtic.
The Captain of the Indian National Women’s Football Team hopes that his stint in Europe will inspire other women in the country and bring more talented players for the National Team. Rangers has signed Bala Devi for a 18-month contract.
“The rate at which women’s football is moving forward (in the country), I hope to see more of these young girls following me to Europe and improving the national team in the future,” Bala Devi said in an AIFF release. “We all have seen European football on television or on Youtube, when we were kids, and have dreamt of ourselves playing under such conditions. Now that I have got this opportunity, I want to grab it with both hands and show the country that we can all do well if we work hard and give it our best,” She added.
While Sunil Chhetri is making football fans going gaga over his goalscoring tendencies which sets him as one of the highest active goalscorers in the world, Bala Devi is the highest scorer in the history of Indian National Team, having scored 52 times in 58 games since his international debut in 2005, when she was only 15 years old. This also makes her the highest scorer in the entire South Asian region.
Bala Devi has been the top-scorer in the Indian Women’s League for the last two seasons and has also been named AIFF’s Woman Player of the Year twice in 2015 and 2016.
“I really cannot describe how I feel right now. Playing in Europe has always been a dream for me, and now it has come true. We all know about the history, the heritage, and the culture that a club like Rangers carries with its name. I am proud to be associated with a club like that, and it will further motivate me to press forward and improve my game,” Devi said.
“Improvement is something that we all need to do at all times, and I am thankful to the AIFF for providing me with the facilities in the National Team, so that I could keep improving my game. Now, it is time to use this opportunity to further improve myself, as I begin this new chapter in my life,” Bala Devi sounded as confident as the Indian Captain should be.
The physical style of Scottish Football is different, but she is ready for the challenge. “Yes, the style of play is more physical in Scotland, but the coaches really helped me adjust to that during my trial. They gave me some crucial tips on how to tweak my game in order to suit the physical style and we could really see those results on the pitch.”
To the young women who will represent India in the Fifa U-17 Women’s World Cup to be held in India later this year, Devi said: “Play hard, play for yourself, but most importantly, play for your country. There is nothing greater than wearing the India jersey.”