Bala Devi: Football has only one language

Two months after joining Rangers WFC, Bala Devi opens up about her life in Scotland, seeing Steven Gerrard and the promising future of India’s under-17 girls.

“What we need to do is organise more games for our (India) women’s team,” says Bala Devi. “...We need to play more games against bigger teams and get more exposure.”   -  Rangers WFC

“Do you have Indian spices?” she asked the cashier of a Scottish grocery store in broken English.

Kaunsa spice chahiye aapko? (Which spice would you like?)”

The storekeeper, who guessed that the customer is an Indian, asked back in Hindi.

Haldi,” she said as her face lit up instantly.

Besides her family and friends at the other end of the phone, this was the first time she had listened to someone speaking Hindi since arriving in Glasgow two months back in January.

READ | Bala Devi signs for Rangers FC: A look into the historic transfer deal

The storekeeper, a Punjabi-origin woman, did not know that her customer was Ngangom Bala Devi, India’s most prolific goal-scorer and current No. 10 of Rangers Women’s Football Club.

As she handed over the turmeric powder to Bala, they talked more in Hindi. She was excited to find a store that sells Indian spices.

“I love cooking and was struggling to find the ingredients,” Bala said.

“Usually I eat from the cafeteria at our training ground. But now it’s international break and we don’t have training for four days. That’s why I thought I will cook something,” she added.

Bala stays with four of her teammates in a large house near their training ground. Although it has only been two months, Glasgow has already taken a special place in her heart.

“I absolutely love this city. The people here support me a lot. And I am amused to see their discipline. They are family-first people, but at the same time they give 110 percent in their work,” Bala said.

“And most of them give a lot of importance to fitness. Every morning I go running in a park near my house, and I can see lots of people jogging there. Most of them, even the elderly, are fitter than me. I hope Indians also follow this one day and give more importance to our health,” she added.

Bala Devi has started two games — one each in the league and the domestic cup — and came off the bench in another cup tie for Rangers. She has already made her mark by assisting a goal in the first game she started. Photo: Rangers WFC   -  Rangers WFC

 

Bala, who has scored 52 goals in 58 appearances for India, had a lot of inhibitions when she arrived at Rangers.

The language barrier was the worst. Born and brought up in a small village in Manipur, the 31-year-old spoke only Manipuri and Hindi.

“Forget English, even my Hindi is terrible,” she chuckled.

But her coaches and teammates at Rangers have been doing their best to make her feel at home since arriving in Glasgow in January.

“I realised soon that I don’t have to be scared. The people here are really friendly. They help each other a lot. And football has only one language everywhere. I pass when they say ‘pass,’ and I turn when they say ‘turn,’” Bala said.

However, there has been a huge change in the way she trains since joining the Scottish club. Unlike the Indian system, the clubs in Europe follow short but high-intense training regimes.

“In India, we train for 90 minutes or two hours, but it won’t be intense. But here we do 45-minute sessions that are extremely exhausting. It’s a huge learning experience,” she said.

With the added responsibility of wearing the No. 10 shirt, Bala is on a mission to score a lot of goals for Rangers.

She has started two games — one each in the league and the domestic cup — and came off the bench in another cup tie. She has already made her mark by assisting a goal in the first game she started.

Still adapting to the system, she hopes she can help Rangers win trophies.

“I was so excited when I got the No. 10 shirt here. It motivates me a lot. But it also puts a lot of pressure as I have to justify their belief in me. Now I am working hard to step up my game and play at the highest level.”

But with the coronavirus outbreak affecting the sporting world, Scotland suspended all leagues until further notice. All domestic professional and grassroots football under the jurisdiction of the Sottish FA is suspended, which includes the Scottish Women’s League, and Rangers has also told its players there will be no training at the club until further notice. The players are expected to keep themselves fit until the season restarts. Bala Devi plans to continue her workout and personal training during the off time.

The Manipuri star proudly displays the No. 10 jersey she wears. PHOTO: Rangers WFC   -  Rangers WFC

“We trained together for two days after the international break. We were told today [on March 13] that the league has been postponed,” she said.

A childhood fan of Liverpool, Bala has more reasons to be happy at Rangers. The women’s team attended one of the games of the Rangers men’s team, where she saw their manager Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool legend and one of her idols.

“I haven’t gotten to talk to him yet. But I am hoping he will come and give us a talk soon. I am so inspired by just watching him stand by the line and give instructions,” she said.

Although her life at Rangers has only started, Bala believes her transfer is only the start of a very bright future for India women’s team.

“All eyes will be on them when India hosts the under-17 women’s World Cup this year,” Bala said.

“There was a huge exposure for the tournament when the under-17 men’s World Cup was held in India in 2017. Now there is an opportunity for women’s football as well. A lot of doors will open if our girls perform well at the tournament.”

Placed 55th in the world, the Indian senior women are comparatively better than their male counterparts in the FIFA rankings.

“What we need to do is organise more games for our women’s team. We have already secured draws against Vietnam and Uzbekistan. We need to play more games against bigger teams and get more exposure. Our future will be bright,” Bala added.