New Delhi, January 29: India Women's National Team stalwarts lauded former India captain Bembem Devi, who is fondly known as the 'Durga of Indian Football', as she is set to receive the prestigious Padma Shri later this year. She will be the seventh Indian footballer of all-time, and the first female player, to win the prestigious civilian award.
Current India captain Ashalata Devi, who was nominated for the AFC Women's Player of the Year 2019 award, referred to Bembem Devi as 'nothing less than badi didi'.
"She is and always will be my badi didi (elder sister). Bem di's Padma Shri award is the true recognition of women's football in India. My nomination in AFC and now, Bem di's award summarises the fact that women's football in India is growing and we're on the right track," Ashalata opined.
Bala Devi, who was the highest scorer in Hero Indian Women's League for consecutive two seasons (2017-18 and 2018-19) having represented Kryphsa and Manipur Police respectively, mentioned that the veteran was the 'coach-friend-guardian' in the team.
"Bembem di has always been our coach-friend-guardian in the team. Whenever we have faced any problem, be it on the field or personal, she has been our one-stop solution. She deserves this award than anyone else and I really feel proud to have shared the dressing room with her. Thank you Bem di for everything," the prolific scorer quipped.
Bembem Devi, whose international career spanned over two decades, hung her boots after winning the gold medal in South Asian Games in Guwahati, Assam in 2016.
Incidentally, defender Dalima Chhibber made her National Team debut in that tournament and she still remembers how helpful Bembem was during her early days in the Indian dressing room.
"I still remember how stiff I was during my earlier days in the Indian dressing room and how Bem di personally came to me and helped me get along with the team. Sharing the dressing room with the living legend is a huge honour for me and personally, it gives me immense pleasure to have heard the news," Dalima recalled.
Meanwhile, Bembem added another feather to her hat when she won the Hero IWL title as a player-cum-coach of Eastern Sporting Union in 2017, being the first person to achieve the feat. Later, she was assigned as the assistant coach for the India U-16 women's team for the AFC U16 Women's Championship 2019 qualifiers in Mongolia. In 2018-19, she managed Manipur Police Sports Club in Hero IWL before managing her state team during the Hero Senior National Football Championship for Women's in 2018-19.
Meanwhile, Dalima refers to her as the go-to person since long in spite of taking up coaching very late.
"Although she has taken up coaching of late, she has been there for us since long, our very own Bem di," Dalima added.
Goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan felt Bembem Devi's recognition will "inspire more girls to play the beautiful game of football more seriously."
"It has been a huge recognition for Indian Women's Football and given the fact that India will host the U17 Women's Football World Cup this year, more girls will be inspired to take up football seriously. As I'm here in Bengaluru for Hero IWL commitments, could really notice how inspiring and motivating this has been for all the players here."
She expressed how fortunate she is to have represented the national team alongside the living legend.
"Thank you Bem di for your support and being a true flag-bearer of Indian Women's Football for so long. I am fortunate to have played alongside you," Aditi added.
Source: AIFF Release