ISL: Bala Devi wishes for women’s derby between Kolkata giants

Kolkata: Players in action during an Indian Super League (ISL) match between Chennaiyin FC and ATK at Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata, on Feb 16, 2020. (Photo: IANS)

Panaji, Nov 25 (IANS) Ahead of Indian Super League’s first-ever Kolkata derby that will kick off on Friday, ace women footballer Ngangom Bala Devi is envisioning a special future — a dream to see ATK Mohun Bagan and SC East Bengal show a similar passion for having a women’s derby in the near future.

Bala, who recently featured in the ‘Old Firm Derby’ — one of the oldest football rivalries in the world between Rangers FC and Celtic FC — believes there is no reason why the two clubs cannot have a women’s team and develop another hi-stake derby in India.

“The big two Kolkata clubs can easily create women’s teams – the players there are blessed with natural talent,” Bala was quoted as saying in an ISL media release.

The 30-year-old is no stranger to the scale of the Kolkata derby. She recalls how she was able to watch a couple of derbies when she was a trainee at the Kolkata Sports Authority of India in 2005-06. She even made it a point to watch the last Kolkata derby in January at the Salt Lake Stadium, just before she left for Glasgow.

“When I started playing junior football in 2002, we used to keep playing finals against the Bengal team. The girls from Bengal were really skillful and back in those days, there were many players from the state in the national team. But now, there’s just the one or two players. I think if Mohun Bagan and East Bengal do what Celtic and Rangers are doing and form women’s teams, then it will be really beneficial not just for Bengal, but for India as well,” Bala said.

The first Indian woman to sign a professional football contract overseas with Rangers FC, Bala has been slowly making headway into the competitive world of women’s football. She is still getting used to the stardom that comes with playing for a club, that’s as celebrated as Rangers.

“People now recognise me in the supermarkets when I go out,” she said. “They’re always wishing me good luck for my next match. There’s even a picture of me at the Ibrox Stadium. People have immense respect for football here, I see them standing for 45 minutes straight during each half. That shows you how much they love the teams and motivate the players,” she added.

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