Bembem Devi: ‘Mullick encouraged me to play till my last breath’

The 37-year-old, who became the second woman footballer after Shanti Mullick to receive the Arjuna award, recalls moments spent with the legend.

Out of all achievements, Oinam Bembem Devi lists the AFC Cup in China (in 1997) as the most memorable incident in her career.   -  AIFF

She fell in love with football while dribbling with the boys in Manipur, her native place, at a young age.

As a kid, Oinam Bembem Devi — the former India women’s football captain — used to hide her injuries wearing full pants. “My father was against me playing the sport. He thought it would hamper my studies,” she told Sportstar, a couple of days after receiving the Arjuna award for her contribution to the sport over two decades. The 37-year-old — who donned the national jersey from 1995 to 2016 — became the second woman footballer, after Shanti Mullick, to receive the honour.

Bembem dedicated her reward to women’s football and recalled the day when she first saw Mullick play. “In 1991, there was a tournament in Imphal where she came to participate. I didn’t know her name back then. Once I saw her run on the field with the ball, I badly wanted to know who she was. The spectators told me her name and that she was an Arjuna award winner. I wanted to have the same passion for the beautiful game,” said Bembem, who met her idol for the second time in 2010.

Bembem scored 32 goals for India in 85 appearances and as captain, she led the team to victory in esteemed tournaments like the South Asian Games (2010) and SAFF Women’s Champioship (2012).   -  AIFF

 

“We met during a game in Goa and spoke at length. She loved the fact that I was playing with a young team and encouraged me to play till my last breath. While she spoke, I kept looking at her and told myself, ‘she still looks so fit.’’’

Towards the peak of her career, Bembem earned the sobriquet ‘Durga of Indian football’. “I probably earned that name for my energy and power to steal the ball from any opponent. Many youngsters told me that I never looked tired during a match. I believe my passion for the sport hid every pain and worries,” she added.

Out of all achievements, the iron woman lists the AFC Cup in China (in 1997) as the most memorable incident in her career. “We had beaten Guam (10-0) and Hong Kong (3-0), but lost to Japan (0-1), the top-ranked team. They scored in the dying minutes, but it remains my favourite match till date.”

Bembem scored 32 goals for India in 85 appearances and as captain, she led the team to victory in esteemed tournaments like the South Asian Games (2010) and SAFF Women’s Champioship (2012). She has also won the AIFF Woman Footballer of the Year award twice (in 2001 and 2013).

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