Bala Devi has made headlines over the years for many firsts in her glittering career. She became the first Indian woman footballers to earn a professional contract in Europe when she signed with Scottish outfit Rangers FC in February 2020 in a historic move.
At the end of last year, Bala again made history when she scored her first goal for Rangers in the Scottish Women’s Premier League. She scored the second goal in Rangers’ 9-0 drubbing of Motherwell FC.
Earlier in March, she found the back of the net with a stunning piece of skill.
⚽️ ABAIR TADHAL!! ⚽️What a goal from Bala Devi just before the full-time whistle! ⚽️
— BBC ALBA (@bbcalba) May 16, 2021
Bala lifted the ball from over 30 yards away past a hapless Spartans FC goalkeeper. She had come on as a substitute in the 67th minute and netted the ‘wonder goal’ in the dying moments of their thumping 5-0 win.
“Being a striker, it is very important to take a decision in a fraction of a second. That what I did when I got the ball, took a split-second decision and the ball went in. The girl who passed to me was very happy that I made it an assist for her. She had never seen a shot like that go in before so was really happy and came to me just saying, Wow!" said during a virtual interaction on Friday.
“After the match, my phone was buzzing with congratulatory messages especially after the goal became viral on social media," she added.
Bala has been fielded in multiple positions in a Rangers shirt. She said that the experience enhanced her game, something her coach too lauded her for recently.
“Sometimes I play as a striker, and at times I play as a No 10. It’s great for me, it gives me opportunities. It has helped me develop a lot, and when I play as a No 10, I feel like I can use my vision better, and influence the game. I want to create goals and support the team in any way I can. I want to be a team player," Bala said.
“The coach has told me that recently I’ve improved a lot. They’ve also said that my 1v1 play is good, and my ball control is also decent," she added.
Rangers are second in the Scottish Women’s Premier League 1 table, behind Glasgow City by just 4 points and 2 games remaining.
Bala is hoping to continue her stint with Rangers as her 18-month contract with the Scottish women’s league side expiring come June 6.
“As a professional footballer, it really felt good to train and for a big side like Rangers for a full season. I have gained plenty of experience from this stint," Bala said.
“I have an 18-month contract which is ending on June 6 with the conclusion of the league. So what is stored in future I can’t say but I will have discussions with Rangers after June 6," she said.
“I have tried to give my best and I am hopeful but you can’t predict anything," she added when prodded.
Bala spent the coronavirus-forced lockdown last year in Glasgow, locked up in her apartment. As things started to get back to normal in Europe, the pandemic situation in India worsened.
“I was very emotional in the first lockdown. I had no idea what I should do and what I shouldn’t. I struggled, there was a lot of responsibility that I had on my shoulders. I had to make sure I took care of my fitness and my diet. I had to do a lot of it myself," said Bala.
“I also met a few Indian families here, so that helped me acclimatise a little. Also, when I walk in the park, or go for a run, I can see a lot of Scottish people working out. They really don’t mind the weather, they go out for runs during the rain. They’re really conscious of their fitness. That helped to motivate me as well! Over time, I remembered what I came to Scotland for, to prove how good I am and make my country proud," she added.
She has not seen her family since last year and Bala admitted that she is worried about her parents, who are back in her village in Manipur.
“I got emotional last year during the lockdown. With no games around it was tough, I didn’t understand what to do. But then I realised why I came here for,” Bala said.
“My father has kidney problems so I am worried about him but my family has been my biggest support during the last one year," she added.
Given India is slated to host two major upcoming international tournaments, the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup and AFC Women’s Asian Cup, in India, Bala is excited for the prospects for young girls in the country.
“I have been representing India since 2005 and it is very pleasing to see the growth of the game in India since 2017. With the support of the federation (AIFF), we are getting exposure” Bala said.
“Women’s football in India has grown by leaps and bounds. We have also grown in confidence," she added.
Bala again reiterated her wish to share her experiences and learning from her Rangers stint with the national team.
“The players who are representing India now have improved a lot. But I will definitely share my experiences with them when I play for India.”