Hope to see more young girls following me to Europe: Bala Devi
Goal-machine Bala Devi, who on Wednesday made history after being roped in by Scottish club Rangers FC, feels this exposure will further propel her to get better and she is confident of scoring a lot of goals in Scotland riding on her reservoir of experience back home.
Rangers FC announced the signing of Bala from Manipur Police Sports Club, subject to international clearance.
The 29-year-old will join the club on an 18-month deal after a successful spell on trial at Rangers in November.
This will make Bala the first Indian woman to become a professional footballer anywhere in the world and she also becomes the Rangers' first Asian international footballer.
"I had confidence. For 14 years, I have represented India, 17 years I played for my state (Manipur) and I have played in Europe twice. I feel, maybe, if I give my best I can do it. I know I can score goals there too like I do here," Bala said.
"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," Bala said to the-aiff.com.
"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," she said.
"The rate at which women's football is moving forward, I hope to see more of these young girls following me to Europe and improving the national team in the future," she continued.
Bala is the current top-scorer for India with 52 goals. She also has over 100 goals in 120 games at the domestic level besides being two-time AIFF Women Player of the Year (2015, 2016).
Bala has also skippered the national team in an international career which began when she was 15 years old.
"It all started when I used to play football with the boys back home," she said.
"I always beleived girls could play, when in 2005 I played for India in Korea, scored goals, I felt we can do better than them too."
Bala has already had one stint in Maldives with New Radiants Sports Club, and said at 29, the move comes at the right time in her career.
"It was very different (in Maldives). 25 days to one month in Maldives I spent with New Radiant Sports Club. That was one step in the right direction. We did not know what is a league and how it is played.
"I was very confident because I've been playing for the national team for 14 years as I said, so I felt that I can make it if I tried my best. We played a friendly there and I scored twice, and I'm sure I will score in the league as well," she said about her trials in Scotand.
In Bala's case, the onus was on the club to legally clear her contract as she did not automatically fit in the eligibility criteria to play in the United Kingdom. She was granted the UK work permit on a special exemption.
The eligibility rules for a woman footballer to ply her trade in the UK specify that the player's country should be ranked in the top-40 of the FIFA rankings, and that the player should have played in a minimum of 75 per cent of international matches in the last two years. As per the latest rankings, the Indian women's team is ranked 57th. Bala, thus, did not fulfil the eligibility criteria.
There was, therefore, a special appeal made to a six-member panel to the Scottish Football Association (SFA) wherein the head coach, technical team and a lawyer from Rangers presented the case. Bala's case was also backed by the Indian football fraternity.
There was AIFF president Praful Patel, Indian women's team coach Maymol Rocky, former Indian skipper Bembem Devi, icons Bhaichung Bhutia, Renedy Singh, and national team skipper Sunil Chhetri putting in their recommendation letters for her exemption.
Talking about the growth of the sport for women in the country, she said: "When I started I used to play only for the national team. Manipur brings a lot of tournaments there is a state league so that was there too.
"There is lots of exposure now for the national team. We went to Spain. Friendly matches we are getting to play and that is great for women's football. IWL is also regular now," she concluded.
Bala will now play in the Scottish Women's Premier League 1, which is the premier division for women's football in Scotland and will run from February to November, with eight teams taking part this season.IANS