Rangers FC’s Bala Devi reveals struggles during lockdown in Scotland, credits club for turning things around-Sports News , Firstpost
Over the course of the past couple of months, Bala Devi has gone from strength to strength, and has become a vital cog in a Rangers side that is currently second in the SWPL table.
In January of 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the world spiralled into a hellish nightmare that only seems to be getting worse, fans of Indian football had something to be happy about. Bala Devi, arguably India’s best footballer, had just signed an 18-month professional contract at Scottish club Rangers, and at the time, it felt like the future of women’s football in India was taking the first step towards something truly exciting.
Unfortunately, just a couple of months later, that first step was postponed, for a while at least. A global pandemic brought sport to a crashing halt, and with just one single game week’s worth of fixtures played, the 2020 edition of the Scottish Women’s Premier League took a COVID-19 enforced break. As months passed, and the world continued to fall further into disarray, the Scottish Football Association decided to call it quits, and in July 2020, declared that the season would be null and void. Bala Devi’s shot at the spotlight would have to wait.
“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 in a media interaction on Friday.
In addition to her own worries, Bala also had to deal with the difficulties of being away from her family while the COVID-19 crisis continued to worsen in India. “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.”
Communication with her teammates and the staff at Rangers was also an issue for the Indian attacker, especially when it came to the notoriously tricky Scottish accent. “It was really difficult to understand things, because my English wasn’t good at all, and on top of that, I had to try to figure out the accent. People in Scotland do strange things when they speak English, they say aye instead of yes! These small things are really confusing for someone who isn’t used to it. Also, over here, there’s a completely different set of words that players use for communication during the match, so even there, I had to pick things up quickly.”
Despite her initial struggles with adapting to life in a new country amidst a lockdown, Bala insisted that her family and Rangers really turned things around for her, saying, “my family did all they could to motivate me. Rangers really helped me too, they guided me in the right direction in terms of fitness. The sports scientists gave me all types of charts and graphs about my progression. They also ensured that I didn’t have much to do in terms of cleaning dishes or cooking, and I ate most of my meals at the club’s facilities.”
“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.”
Bala’s renewed motivation has also been accompanied by an incredible upsurge in fortunes. Over the course of the past couple of months, the Manipur-native has gone from strength to strength, and has become a vital cog in a Rangers side that is currently second in the SWPL table with four matches to go. She has also found a fresh lease on life in her relatively newer role as a No 10, a change in position that has allowed her to display the creative aspect of her game. But perhaps the highlight of her short spell at Rangers so far was a league game against Spartans on 16 May, in which Bala scored an absolute belter of a goal, lobbing a shot over the opponent’s goalkeeper from a good 25 yards out.
“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,” said Bala about her new role, adding, “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.”
Despite Bala’s massive improvement during her tenure at Rangers, her contract, which comes to an end soon, is still an issue that needs resolving. “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 has 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.”
Regardless of what her contract situation is, the Indian forward is keen on making the most of her experience at Rangers, and is looking forward to imparting some of what she has learned to her teammates in the national setup. “I will try to share as much as possible of what I’ve learned with everyone, but also, I think India is improving by leaps and bounds anyway!”
“The federation has been working overtime to make sure that we get as much exposure as possible to the highest levels of the game. The decision to host the U-17 Women’s World Cup and the AFC Women’s Asian Cup are two of the biggest examples of this effort from the AIFF, but the COTIF Cup that we played in Spain was also an important experience for the team!”
“I’ve been representing India since 2005. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much being done for the sport. I’m very excited about where Indian women’s football is heading,” she concluded.
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