Indian football team star Bala Devi feels women’s football in India could receive a big boost if it had its own version of the famous Kolkata Derby.
The two Kolkata-based clubs -- East Bengal and Mohun Bagan -- will continue their decades-old rivalry in the Indian Super League this Friday. Mohun Bagan have merged with ATK for the ISL and will turn out as ATK Mohun Bagan.
Bala Devi became the first woman footballer from India to sign a professional contract with a European club when she agreed to join Rangers Women FC in Scotland.
The 30-year-old Devi played the ‘Old Firm Derby’ – the term given for the clash between Rangers Women and Celtic Women – a week ago, with Rangers Women falling 1-0 to a late penalty in the Scottish Women’s Premier League.
Bala Devi witnessed first-hand the level of excitement for the clash and appealed for a similar initiative in India.
“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 said.
“Rangers and Celtic did this in just less than a year to build their women’s teams. Our two Kolkata clubs can do something similar in the same time frame,” she hoped.
Having come through the ranks in Manipur and then training in Kolkata, two places known for its football enthusiasm, Bala Devi is aware that there is no dearth of talent.
“The big two Kolkata clubs can easily create women's teams — the players there are blessed with natural talent. When I played junior football, we used to keep playing finals against the Bengal team.
“The girls from Bengal were really skilful and back in those days, there were many players from the state in the national team,” noted Devi.
“If we had a system where girls can get matches throughout the year, then more players will come up. For this, all the clubs should maintain women's teams and give them the necessary infrastructure to do so,” she reasoned.