IWL unearths gem in 12-year-old Senorita Nongpluh

When FC Pune City’s Senorita Nongpluh was not even born, Bembem Devi, a name synonymous with women’s football in India, had already won the AIFF Woman Footballer of the Year (in 2001) and captained India.

Senorita Nongpluh (left, #23) is rubbing shoulders with the country's best including the legendary likes of Bembem Devi at the tender age of 12.

When FC Pune City’s Senorita Nongpluh was not even born, Bembem Devi, a name synonymous with women’s football in India, had already won the AIFF Woman Footballer of the Year (in 2001) and captained India.

When Senorita was probably still learning to kick a ball, Bembem Devi had already led India to two consecutive SAFF Championship wins.

Last week (February 2), however, the 12-year-old Senorita stepped on the same grass as the Indian legend when FC Pune City faced Eastern Sporting Union, in a match where Pune eventually lost 3-1. With the result not withstanding, Senorita, who came on as a first half substitute, had the opportunity to rub shoulders against not only Bembem Devi, but also other players of the women’s national team like Umapati Devi, Kamala Devi and Premi Devi.

It was evident that the 12-year-old was showing more than enough heart on the pitch for her age – tackling for balls, fighting for possession and pressing the opposition from upfront.

“I had never imagined that I would get to play alongside some of my idols and most importantly legends of Indian football. It is like a dream come true,” Senorita had said after the match.

“When I was on the touchline waiting to come on (the pitch) I was feeling nervous. But once I touched the ball, my confidence grew.”

In what is a historic season for women’s Football in the country, Senorita has already etched her name into the history books by becoming the youngest ever player to feature in the professional League.

“Most people ask me how old I am and when I tell them my age they stare in awe. Some people have asked me don’t I feel scared when I play against Players twice my size.”

“There are times when I feel scared, but football is my life and I have worked hard to get to where I am today. It only gets better from here,” she adds.

There was a moment in the second half when Senorita tackled Bembem Devi and won the ball. Bembem smirked, perhaps in astonishment, perhaps in awe and perhaps in nostalgia.

“She (Senorita) reminds me of myself”, said Bembem Devi, who made her Indian debut at the tender age of 15 against Guam in the Asian Women’s Championship.

“It is an extraordinary achievement for any football player to play in the top-flight at the age of 12. She possesses a lot of talent.”

“But that is also what the Indian Women’s League has done; provide platform to all the talented players in India. Eventually, we will see more talented players in the League”, Bembem stated.

Senorita has been a part of every FC Pune City fixture, coming on as a substitute mostly. Although a goal still eludes the 12-year-old forward, her ambitions are high.

“It would be another achievement to score a goal. It would be another dream come true. I will be on cloud nine that day,” she says in one breath.

Something perhaps indicates that that day is not far away. Maybe, it is Senorita’s achievements at such an early age or maybe it is just destiny.

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