India captain N Bala Devi says there is no reason why football giants SC East Bengal and ATK Mohun Bagan cannot create their respective women’s team and develop a high-stake women’s Kolkata derby.
Traditional rivals Mohun Bagan and East Bengal will clash in the Indian Super League for the first time on Friday since their mergers with ATK and Shree Cement respectively and Bala Devi hopes to see a similar derby soon for the women’s game.
“The big two Kolkata clubs can easily create women’s teams the players there are blessed with natural talent,” said the pathbreaking footballer, who recently featured in the ‘Old Firm Derby’ — one of the oldest football rivalries in the world between Rangers FC and Celtic FC in Scottish women’s league.
“Rangers and Celtic did this in just less than a year to build their women’s teams. Our two Kolkata clubs can do the same in the same time frame from today.”
The 30-year-old trailblazer said if East Bengal and Mohun Bagan can form their women’s team it will immensely help women’s football in the country.
“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,” she said.
“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 Devi’s entry into Scottish football comes at a time when the women’s league in Scotland has been undergoing a drastic overhaul.
In 2018, all the stakeholders of the women’s game in Scotland agreed that they needed to take a step forward and in a brief period. The Scottish Women’s Premier League has developed rapidly that BBC Scotland started broadcasting select matches from this year.
Bala Devi believes there is no reason why the same cannot be done in India.
“Manipur produces a lot of players because there are a lot of matches there, across all age groups,” she said.
“But in other states, such matches don’t happen. So, if we had a system where girls can get matches throughout the year, then more and more players will come up. For this, all the clubs should maintain women’s teams. Players can’t train by themselves, they need the necessary infrastructure to do so.”
The first Indian woman to sign a professional football contract overseas with Rangers FC, Bala Devi has been slowly making headway into the competitive world of women’s football.
“People now recognise me in the supermarkets when I go out,” she says.
“They’re always wishing me good luck for my next match. There’s even a picture of me at the Ibrox Stadium,” she said.
“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.