NEW DELHI, 19th December, 2017: A journey which began as a childhood love for the game turned a full circle on August 29, 2017 when Oinam Bembem Devi the ‘Durga of Indian Football’ was conferred the Arjuna Award. In process she became the 25th footballer and 2nd woman overall to be awarded so.
It had been long wait of 34 years since Shanti Mullick was conferred with the honour back in 1983 but no one was as deserving as Bembem for her service towards women’s football and Indian Football in general. A glittering international career of 21 years was finally given the crown it deserved when she walked up to President Ram Nath Kovind at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan.
The journey was long and hard but Bembem toiled along. From the fields near home to being restricted by her father from playing football. She had to fight all odds to make it. But unflinching support from her mother ensured that she got the chance to live her dream.
Making it to the Manipur U-13 team in 1991 was the first step but it wasn’t until her first India call up in 1995, that she really made it. Adjudged as the AIFF Player of the Year in 2001 and 2013, Bembem was the captain of two SAFF Women’s Championship winning sides in 2012 and 2014. 85 international caps and 21 years later she hung up her boots in 2016. But a new start awaited her in coaching.
As a player cum coach, she led her side Eastern Sporting Union to the title in the inaugural edition of the Indian Women’s League earlier this year in February. Even during the announcement of her Arjuna win, she was at the Junior National Football Championship for Girls in Odisha helping unearthing new talent.
A giant in women’s football in India and a great servant of the game, here’s hoping she finds more success in her role as a coach and help discover the Bembems of the future.