For Indian footballer Bala Devi, just being able to play for Rangers FC in the Scottish Women’s Premier League was a historic feat.
But the prolific Indian forward hasn’t just got there to make up the numbers and has been positively impacting Rangers’ season. Last Sunday, Bala came off the bench to score a stunning long-range goal in a 5-0 victory over Spartans.
The goal caught the eye far beyond the Indian crowds as the Manipuri player was able to showcase what she has in her locker in a foreign league.
Bala’s appearances have largely been from the bench at Rangers but they have come in regular supply. Used both as a forward and midfielder, the coach has been impressed with her versatility.
“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,” Bala told reports in an online interaction.
“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,” she added.
However, despite having a notable impact in Scotland, Bala’s future remains uncertain. Her contract runs out at the end of the current season that finishes on June 6 and there have been no talks yet of an extension.
“I can’t really say much about my future at the moment. Our matches will end on 6 June, and before that, I can’t really say anything. I’ve not really spoken to Rangers about anything yet. Every player hopes that they’ll be able to continue getting better and playing in a team that they like, but I really can’t say what will happen, I just need to be positive,” she said.
Bala had become the first Indian woman to earn a professional football contract abroad and also became the first Indian player to score a goal in a foreign league when she netted against Motherwell FC in December last year.
Her time in Scotland though has been stop-start due to the Covid-19 pandemic as the country has witnessed spells of lockdown. Bala, who is also the first Asian international footballer to represent Rangers FC, had decided to stay back in Glasgow during coronavirus-forced global lockdown last year.
The Indian revealed it was a struggle for her initially to be at home in a country she knew little about but she worked her way out of it.
“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.
With Covid-19 cases rising back home in India, concerns about her family also started to grow.
“I had to take care of my dad too, and I continuously kept telling him not to go out too much or take many risks. Our village is luckily not among the worst affected areas in Manipur, so that gave me some relief, but it has been difficult,” Bala said.
“That time, I kept reminding myself of what my aim in life was and why I had come to Scotland for. I kept reminding myself that I had to India proud and that kept me going,” she added.
Having settled into life in Scotland and come to terms with the accent and local culture, Bala Devi will hope she has done enough to impress the Rangers coaching set up with her performances in the last one-and-half year and earn a contract extension.
But as uncertainty prevails, Bala Devi is keen to keep at it on the pitch.
“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. I don’t know what the future hold but my focus is always on my game,” she said.