Sneaking out to play football at her local ground in order to avert her father was how Oinam Bembem Devi started off in the sport. Egged on by her brothers she has remained in the forefront of Indian women’s football. Today, with a career spanning two decades, she has become a huge role model for young Indian sportswomen and footballers.
Her achievements have been awarded with the much-coveted Arjuna award, which makes her the second Indian female footballer to have won this award. Shanti Mullick was first to be awarded in 1983.
Made her international football debut in 1995
Brandishing the Indian jersey when she was just 15 years old against Hong Kong in 1995, she went on to be mentored under Ekendra Singh a local coach. Under him, she became one of the greatest players in India. From the beginning, Oinam was always determined to be the best and make a career out of the sport. Starting with convincing her family, she also convinced society that Indian women too can compete in football. After bagging the award, she said, “This is an Award for Indian women’s football. I hope this award will help remove the mental block and inspire all girls in the society to take up the sport. It gives me immense satisfaction to see my name in the same list as the greatest Indian sportspersons across all fields. My sacrifice over the past two decades has not gone waste.”
It was never an easy road to get here
Despite not having the support of her parents initially, she was driven to prove that she can make it in football. Training at a young age meant that she often had to skip school for football practice since her father was adamant about her finishing school. But, she beat the odds and successfully managed both. Her teachers would tutor her separately so that she didn’t miss her classes and apart from this, the lack of finances for her sports kit proved to be a hurdle. Though she would often wear hand-me-downs from previous sportspersons, they became her treasures. But, all the sacrifices she made as a young girl paid off as she was selected for the senior Indian team even though she never played a single junior match.
Though she ended her long run in 2015, since then she has been involved in coaching and scouting numerous young talent for Indian football.
Image credit: zeenews.india.com