Emotional to be back in the national camp after so long, says Bala Devi

The city of Chennai is currently a true confluence of India’s best talents in women’s football – the National camps for both the Seniors and the Under-20 probables are running simultaneously at the SSN Ground and the Home Games Sports Arena, respectively.

While the Blue Tigresses are currently preparing for the upcoming Women’s Olympic Qualifiers scheduled in April, the U-20 team will leave for Dhaka, Bangladesh, next week to participate in the SAFF U-20 championships. Staying together at the same hotel, the probables of both teams are an excited lot; training hard and looking forward to showcasing their talents for the National teams.

But then, there is one more reason that makes the players extra motivated; even the seasoned campaigners are thrilled that Ngangom Bala Devi is back in the National camp after a long time. There is a buzz in the air: “Bala didi is back” – every camper is delighted that one of the country’s finest players has returned to the National camp to share the stage with them. 

Indian Senior Women’s Team Head Coach Thomas Dennerby has called 30 players for the camp, and players like Sangita Basfore, Jabamani Tudu, Karthika and Bala Devi are back after a long period. 

One of India’s finest woman footballers, Bala has thrice been named the AIFF’s Women’s Player of the Year and played for the Scottish Club, Rangers FC, from 2020-2022. The star Indian striker’s British stint was cut short last year because of an ACL injury, prompting her to return to India. However, she has recovered from her injury since then.

In a candid chat, Bala Devi discussed her comeback in detail, the way forward, her past experiences and much more. 

Excerpts:

Q: How do you feel about returning to the camp after a long time?

Bala: Well, I am back in the national team after three years. It’s a rather surreal feeling. I have been waiting for this moment for a long time, and now that the moment has arrived, I feel emotional, to be honest. Life’s certainly good and kind to me now. My rehab process was long, but I am glad that I am now fit and ready to play.  

After my stint in Rangers, I received some offers from different clubs in other countries. But I wanted to come back and be in contention to represent my country. I will once again wear the India jersey – the best that can happen to me. 

Q: The Senior National camp now has some new faces and some old ones too. How do you feel about it? 

Bala: Initially, I was bit nervous because I was back after spending two years in Europe, and that too after recovering from my injury. I was not sure how the new and old combination would fit in, but I was wrong. I feel so pumped up after seeing the new faces and my old friends full of energy. I feel that I have to push myself a little more to match their vibes now. 

All these girls always come to me and tell me they want to play with me – I am grateful for the love they have for me. I am confident that with the current team and the coaches, we surely have a better future ahead.

Q. Everyone around here – the players, coaches and other staff members have missed you. Now that you are back, we can see smiling faces all over. Everyone has so much trust in you – Do you feel the pressure sometimes?

Bala: I generally don’t come under pressure. I try to be with everyone because football is a team sport, and I am happy that everyone has faith in me. I want to set an example for youngsters and not show nervousness at any point. After all, the biggest responsibility is to represent your own country. Nothing feels better than this, nothing makes you more confident than playing for the nation. 

Q: Many youngsters look up to you as a role model. Do you regularly pass on the experience you have gained over the years to these girls? 

Bala: It’s nothing different over here – the game, the plans, the atmosphere – everything is quite similar. The passion of playing for the country should be there, and I try to tell every girl that no matter how hard life is, never stop working hard because that’s what finally matters. I have played for the country for almost 15 years, but I haven’t stopped working hard – not even for a day.

Under Thomas Dennerby and Maymol Rocky, we are all preparing for the upcoming tournaments, and don’t want to let the country down. This is our chance to show the world what we are capable of. 

Q: How do you feel about the growth of women’s football in India now?

Bala: Women’s football in India is growing immensely, and I feel we have reached the level where any of us can play the game professionally abroad. Manisha, Soumya, and Grace, who are playing in different clubs outside India, have set a standard for women’s football. I hope parents watch these girls and let their kids play the beautiful game. We have to show that we are capable of anything and fear none. 

Q: What’s your message to the youngsters in the camp?

Bala: I tell them that you all are wearing the India logo on your chest, and you should be proud of that. Never take that lightly, and give your best in each training session. Never stop dreaming – keep working hard, and results will show. The passion of playing for the country or scoring a goal shouldn’t be compromised by any means.

Also Read: A tale of two footballers and their fight against gender bias

Also Read: Mumbai Kenkre stun league leaders with late-winner

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