New Delhi: Exploits in football earned her the Padma Shri, but to become India's most well-known woman footballer, Oinam Bembem Devi played with the boys, called herself Bobo one day, Amko the other.
The first woman footballer to have been awarded the Padma Shri, Bembem Devi on Sunday went back to the time when she worked to become what she is today.
"When I was some nine years old I had changed my name to Bobo, Amko to play football with the boys. Had I mentioned that my name was Bembem they would have understood I was a girl, and not taken me in their team to play," she said.
The men's team talisman Sunil Chhetri was the last footballer to win Padma Shri, in 2019.
Bembem hoped this will act as recognition for women's football in India.
"This is an eye opener to all who believe you can't go places playing women's football in India. I hope this will inspire all the girls and their parents to believe.
"This is the year of the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2020. This Padma Shri award is for the next generation of girls who will play, or take up the sport some years later."
She said it's an absolute honour to join a club that boasts names as big as the late Sailen Manna, Chuni Goswami, P K Banerjee and Bhaichung Bhutia, besides Chhetri.
"They are real legends, people whom I have heard about, and looked up to during my career.
"But I feel this is just the beginning for women's football. I see more women footballers coming up to join the club."
On the prestigious honour, she said, "It was a moment of immense satisfaction -- the moment when all your pains, sacrifices, hard work combined together and came in a package to bring the Padma Shri.
"This motivates me for my future assignments, endeavours."
All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel said, "None deserve it more than Bembem Devi. She has been a role model for Indian football and won so many laurels for India over the years.
"I hope more girls draw inspiration from her and take Indian women's football to greater heights.