Focus of ISL and I-League clubs needed: Ashalata Devi

Updated on Jul 21, 2019 11:47 PM IST

“My mother would keep asking why I would not focus on academics and be the lawyer that I wanted to be,” says Devi, who was adjudged India’s woman player of the year.

Ashalata Devi says women footballers in India need more matches in a year.(AIFF)
Ashalata Devi says women footballers in India need more matches in a year.(AIFF)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

Street football was never her thing but a road behind her house did help Ashalata Devi forge a career in football. After dropping her bag at home after school, Devi would use it to slip away unnoticed to an addiction she couldn’t quit despite her mother’s best efforts. When the scolding got severe, she would lay off for a while, only to return to football days later. Till the next time her mother got angry.

“My mother would keep asking why I would not focus on academics and be the lawyer that I wanted to be,” says Devi, who was adjudged India’s woman player of the year.

“Even when I got selected for the India under-17 side my folks were sceptical but that was also when they started coming around to the idea that football would be my way of making a life. Now my mother gets upset if I mention that I will quit football,” says Devi.

Parental objection was not a hurdle for Dangmei Grace. She started playing with her brothers. It wasn’t something she was serious about till a friend took Grace, then in high school, to a football event.

“That was when I started getting interested. It helped that there were so many seniors to look up to: Bala di (Bala Devi), Bembem di (O Bembem Devi), Malik di (Sasmita Malik), Tababi (Tababi Devi). That was five years ago,” says Grace, adjudged emerging player of the year by the All India Football Federation (AIFF).

Grace is 23, and a striker; Devi, 26, is a central defender. Grace’s favourite player is Megan Rapinoe—for how she plays, conducts herself off the pitch and how she looks—though she would draw the line at colouring her hair pink.

Devi likes David Luiz and US striker Alex Morgan but among defenders, England full-back Lucy Bronze is her favourite.

Devi and Grace’s paths converged at Imphal’s Krypsha FC and from then they have been at opposite ends of the pitch for club and country. Both played for Sethu FC which won the last Indian Women’s League (IWL). Football helped them find employment: Grace is a physical education teacher with Manipur’s youth and sports department and Devi works for the Railways.

Both are now part of the India’s preparatory camp here for the COTIF Cup, an invitational tournament in Valencia, Spain, beginning on July 28. And both owe a lot to Chaoba Devi, their coach at Krypsha, and assistant to Maymol Rocky in the senior national team.

“Defenders don’t become player of the year and I was no different thinking it would never come my way. If it did now, it is because of Chaoba ma’am. She would chide me for saying this at Krypsha,” says Devi.

Both also spoke about Krypsha being crowd-funded. “‘Please can you help us, we are going to play a tournament’, we would say. They would give bags of rice, some would give money,” says Grace. Krypsha now has multiple girls’ youth teams, adds Devi.

And both say only more teams can make the IWL longer and stronger. “My request to I-League and ISL (Indian Super League) clubs is to focus on women’s football,” says Devi. “The IWL will only grow if more clubs are interested,” says Grace. Twelve teams played the IWL last term. “Not enough,” opines Grace.

Lack of game time

The player says she gets around three to four months of football in a year and that too because she is from Manipur which holds a seven-team double-leg league. Devi trains with 20-odd girls, all recruited under the sports quota, in Hajipur, Bihar, where they are posted. It is a part of Railways’ camps in different parts of the country but she too spoke about the lack of game time. Pointing out that it is possibly because only three states— Manipur, Tamil Nadu and Odisha—are serious about women’s football, Devi says the intra-railways competition has not been held for two years. “We have requested them to resume it,” she says.

Regular exposure trips, preparatory camps and a league is an improvement from how things were even two years ago but ahead of a south Asian championship this year and the 2020 Asian Cup qualifiers, things could certainly be better.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Dhiman Sarkar is based in Kolkata with over two decades as a sports journalist. He writes mainly on football.

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