"She has got almost every possible award a player could get."
From past to contemporary times, Indian female football players have succeeded at the club and international levels.
They have put a brave front when facing obstacles to come up trumps with their performances.
The top footballers predominately come from the Manipur region. These Indian female football players have inspired each other.
Oinam Bembem Devi, particularly, has been a big influence on some.
Virtually all of the female players have come through the youth system to play in the Indian Women’s League (IWL).
They have all gone on to represent the senior Indian women’s team and won gold at major Asian tournaments.
We showcase 10 incredible Indian female football players who have made a mark in the sport.
Shanti Mallick was one of the top Indian female football players between 1979 and 1983. She comes from West Bengal, India.
She took up the sport, following in the footsteps of her father who was also a footballer.
Despite all the hardships, in a conversation with Kindle, she recalls a key moment from her early days:
“I started to play barefoot, but the day I got my first pair of boots, I knew nothing could stop me.”
She went against doctors and family advice to have a good career. From a fair play perspective, she had an exemplary international career, not receiving a booking ever.
Technically she had all the talent. Hence, she had a bright football career. She was a natural leader, with a good goal scoring tally.
She led the national football team at the 1982 Asian Games.
Shanti was also part of India’s World Cup side, which at the time did not have an affiliation with FIFA
In recognition of her outstanding accomplishments in football, she was honoured with the prestigious 1983 Arjuna Award.
Shanti was the first Indian footballer to receive such an accolade. Post-playing days, she began coaching and mentoring young players.
Oinam Bembem Devi
Oinam Bembem Devi is amongst the best Indian female football players to represent the country. She was born in Imphal, Manipur, India, on April 4, 1980.
It was in 1988 that she had the opportunity to train with United Pioneers Club in her home city.
She went on to represent the under-13 Manipur side in a sub-junior football event and instantly came to notice.
After initially signing away to Yawa Singjamel Leishangthem Lekai Club, she headed for Social Union Nascent (SUN) Club two years later.
She also became a regular with the Manipur state football side.
At the senior level, she had a season (2014-2015) with New Radiant, a Maldivian Football club, scoring 3 from nine appearances.
She scored twice in the 9th and 26th minutes to win the league after registering a famous 5-1 win against Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).
The final match versus MNDF took place on June 21, 2014.
She also had two seasons (2016-2018) with her local club, Eastern Sporting Union.
Bembem made her international debut in the Asian Women’s Championship against Guam at the age of fifteen.
However, she made an impression on the international stage after appearing at the 1996 Asian Games.
After receiving the armband, she led her side in winning major tournaments. This includes gold at the South Asian Games in Bangladesh (2010) and India (2016)
India also won the SAFF Women’s Championship titles in Sri Lanka (2012) and Pakistan (2014) under her captaincy.
She wore the No. 6 kit when playing for Team India. As an attacking midfielder, she netted 32 goals from eighty-five appearances for India.
In 2001, she became the first-ever women’s ‘Player of the Year.’ This is after being named by the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
He bagged the same award in 2013, firmly imprinting her name as one of the leading Indian female football players.
She has many other accolades to her name as well. These include the 2017 Arjuna Award and the 2020 Padma Shri Award.
She was familiar as ‘Durga’ (saviour) of women’s Indian football for encouraging other players and when managing several teams.
Sasmita Malik ranks as one of the highest Indian female football players. This is in terms of goals for the national side.
This left-wing position player was born in Aali, Kendrapara, Orissa, India, on April 10, 1989. She was the discovery of Aali MLA, Shri Devendra Sharma.
After participating in local events in Bhubaneswar, she linked with Bhubaneswar Sports Hostel.
It is at BSH where she sowed the seeds to earn a call up with the national team.
She was impressing everyone in 2004, which became her breakthrough year. Sasmita did not look back after making her national debut at the age of seventeen.
She guided the Blue Tigresses to many wins when leading the team for more than a decade.
Sasmita was part of the winning squads at the 2010 South Asian Games and successive SAFF Women’s Championships.
Sasmita has a phenomenal goal scoring ratio for India, netting 35 from fourty appearances.
She also scored heavily for Odisha based club, Rising Student’s Club, finding the net 9 times from eleven appearances.
For her fantastic performances on the field, she was declared the 2016 AIFF Women’s Player of the Year.
Bala Devi also lies in top position amongst Indian female football players, with an excellent goal scoring conversion rate.
The striker was born Nagangom Bala Devi in Manipur, India, on February 2, 1990.
As a young person, Bala began playing football, primarily with her male counterparts.
Her first recognition was being adjudged ‘best player’ at the 2002 Assam Under-19 Women’s Championship, whilst representing Manipur.
In 2003, she repeated the same feat.
Bala went on to represent Manipur at the state level. She played a pivotal role in the 3-1 win over Odhisa. This was in the 2014 final of the Indian women’s football championship.
She also won gold with her state side at the 2015 National Games, beating Odisha 4-2 on penalties.
Despite playing for several domestic teams, it is at two clubs that Bala made the headlines.
Firstly during her second stint with Manipur Police (2019-2020), Bala’s goal-scoring tally was top notch. She found the back of the net on 26 occasions from thirty-seven appearances.
Secondly, Bala became a professional footballer in 2020. This is after signing an eighteen months contract with Scottish Women’s Premier League side, Rangers.
In addition, she became the first Indian woman to get on to the scoresheet in a European professional football league.
This is after netting for The Light Blues in their 9-0 victory over Motherwell FC on December 6, 2020.
After playing for India at the Under-16 and Under-19 levels, Bala also made her senior debut when she was 15-years-old.
She told the Olympics site online that Bembem who began playing at the same age was some she looked up to:
“Bembem in women’s football is an inspiration.”
“She has got almost every possible award a player could get.”
Bala was playing high-grade internationals since 2005. The forward has an amazing goal scoring record for Team India, netting the ball 52 times from just fifty-eight international fixtures.
She is a three-time winner of the SAFF Women’s Championship (2010, 2014, 2016), with Team India. The 2016 championship became even more special, with her leading the side.
She was also a member of Team India when they won gold at the South Asian Games in 2010, 2016 and 2019.
Furthermore, Bala is a multiple-winner of the AIFF Women’s Player of the Year award.
Ashalata Devi is one of the best Indian female football players playing in Asia as a defender. She was born Loitongbam Ashalata Devi in Imphal, Manipur, India, on July 3, 1993.
At 13-years-old, she began playing the sport. Ashalata spoke to Goal.com about the early hardships she had to face – that too from closed ones:
“When I just started off (playing football), there were a lot of struggles.
“I didn’t have support from my family who felt that this game is not for girls as they were more worried about getting me married.
“I was punished, so stopped playing for a few months but slowly started playing again.”
In 2015, she agreed to play for Maldivan club, New Radiant Women’s Football Club. After Bembem, she became the second player from India to sign for a club outside her country.
In her very first season, she was part of the Radiant squad, which finished top of the league. She played for several other clubs from India, including Sethu FC based in Tamil Nadu.
Ashalata had her first international taste when representing India at the Under-17 level in 2008. It was during this time that she had the full unconditional support of her mother to follow her passion.
She made her debut for the senior Indian team three years later in 2011.
Ashalata is a four-time winner of the SAFF Women’s Championship. This includes the 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2019 editions of the event.
Additionally, she is a gold medallist with the national women’s team at the 2016 and 2019 South Asian Games. In fact, at the 2019 Games, she led Team India to glory.
India defeated Nepal in the gold medal final, courtesy of two goals from Bala Devi. The match took place at Pokhara Rangsla, Pokhara, Nepal, on December 9, 2019.
The centre back was named the 2018-2019 AIFF Women’s Player of the Year.
Kamala Devi is one of the most experienced Indian female football players.
The midfielder and sometimes striker was born Yumnam Kamala Devi in Thoubal, Manipur, India, on March 4, 1992.
She took inspiration from her state and her two-year senior player:
“It’s because of the Football Culture in Manipur that what I am today. Bembem Di (Oinam Bembem Devi) is the best example.”
During her five year career with the Railways (2013-2018), she had more goals than matches played. Kamala found the back of the net 43 times from thirty-two games.
It was a similar case when representing Eastern Sporting Union in the IWL between 2017-2019.
She also had an incredible match for Union as they demolished Rising Students Club by 3-0 to clinch the inaugural IWL title.
Kamala tapped the ball in the 32th-minute and sealed the win with a 66th-minute blast of a goal
The Dr Ambedkar Football Stadium in New Delhi, India was the host venue for this match on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2017.
FC Kolhapur City and Gokulam Kerala FC are some of the other clubs she has played for.
She has four gold medals from the SAFF Women’s Championship (2010, 2012 2014, 2016).
Kamala was awarded the ‘Most Valuable Player of the Final’ at the 2012 SAFF event.
She was also the top scorer for Team India, with seven goals in total.
This includes a hat-trick against Afghanistan in the semi-final at Ceylonese Rugby & Football Club Ground, Colombo, Sri Lanka, on September 14, 2021.
She followed this with a goal in the final, as India defeated Nepal 3-1 on September 16, 2021.
Additionally, she possesses gold medals from the 2010 and 2016 South Asian Games.
At the 2016 event, she was the leading scorer of the tournament, with five goals. This includes two goals in the final at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Shillong, Meghalaya, India.
India came on top, winning 4-0 against Nepal in the gold medal match that was held on February 15, 2016.
Kamala has gone on to receive many distinguished awards.
These include the 2017 AIFF Woman Footballer of the Year, 2017 ‘IWL Top Scorer’ with 12 goals and’ Best Player’ at the 2016 Senior Women’s National Championship.
Aditi Chauhan, a national team goalie is among the finest Indian female football players.
She was born in Talegao, Goa, India, on November 20, 1992. Following a move to Delhi with her family, Aditi became a keen sportsperson.
With an effective hand grasp in basketball, Aditi’s coach persuaded her to participate in trials as a football goalkeeper.
After successfully coming through the trials, she made it into the Delhi Under-19 squad at the age of fifteen.
Later, she completed her MSc in Sports Management from Loughborough University.
Whilst representing the university team, she simultaneously earned her selection to play for West Ham United Women Football Club in 2015.
She debuted against Coventry United Ladies Football Club on August 16, 2015. As a result, she became the first female from India to play competitive football in England.
Aditi was also the first South Asian lady to compete in English League Football.
Following her two-season stay with the Hammers, she went back home. Leading Gokulam Kerala, the South Indian side became the 2019-20 IWL champions.
In 2021, Aditi made the move to Icelandic club, Hamae Hverageroi to further develop her career.
She had a four-year run with India’s Under-19 side and then went on to play for the senior team.
Representing India, she was a key member of the squads that won the 2016 and 2019 SAFF Women’s Championships.
In addition, Adito has two gold medals with Team India at the 2016 and 2019 South Asian Games.
She is a recipient of the ‘Women in Football Award 2015′ at the 2 Asian Football Awards. Aditi has had a comprehensive experience with the national side as their first choice keeper.
Dangmei Grace is a striker who has represented the national women’s team of India. She was born in Manipur, India, on February 5, 1996.
Belonging to the Rongei tribe of Dimadailong village, her parents are Simon Dangmei and Rita Dangmei.
She has played for several Indan clubs that feature in the IWL. She picked up the ‘Emerging Player Award’ during the 2018 IWL.
After rising from the Under-19s, Dangmei made her senior debut for India in the 2013 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Qualifiers.
By the time Dangmei had made fourty-one appearances for the national team, she had 14 goals to her name.
She was part of the Indian squad that won the 2016 South Asian Games.
She also had a contribution in securing the 2016 SAFF Women’s Championship. Dangmei scored the first goal for India inside the initial forty-five minutes.
Her goal was ideal in breaking the ice. Whilst, Bangladesh did equalise, India had two more goals in the second half and were then the dominant force.
The 3-1 triumph against Bangladesh came in the home final, taking place at the Kanchenjunga Stadium, Siliguri on January 4, 2017.
Thus, India became champions of the tournament for the fourth time on the trot. Ever since her first match, Dangmei became a regular feature for Team India.
Ratanbala Devi is one of the most attacking and positive Indian female football players. She positions herself in the midfield and defence, often playing from box to box.
She was born Nongmaithem Ratanbala Devi in Manipur, India, on December 2, 1999.
Ratanbala has had a great goal scoring record both for KRYPHSA Football Club and Sethu Football Club.
She put her name on the score sheet for India versus Hong Kong during the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup Qualifiers.
Subsequently, Ratanbala became a crucial member of India’s national side.
On January 27, 2019, she netted her first hattrick for India in a friendly against Indonesia. The goals from Ratanbala came in the 67th, 70th and 78th minutes.
Her first goal beat the goalie close to her post, scooping the second in the back of the net.
Ratanbala’s third goal came courtesy of a slamming kick from inside the box.
During India’ 2019 SAFF Women’s Championship-winning campaign, she also scored goals. One came against the Maldives on March 13, 2019,
The second goal came versus Sri Lanka on March 17, 2019. Both of her goals came during India’s Group B matches.
In a fine display against Bolivia Under-19, Ratanbala scored twice in a 3-1 victory during the 2019 COTIF Cup.
Her brace came in the group stage game, which took place at Els Arcs de, Alcudia, Majorca, on August 3, 2019.
Ratanbala netted 10 times by her 24th international match.
Dalima Chhibber has played primarily in the right-back, central midfield and striking positions for India. She was born in Delhi, India, on August 30, 1997.
Dalima’s athlete father was very instrumental in her career early on as she tells The Hindu smilingly:
“Father (Om Prakash Chhibber) has been my inspiration.”
After playing for several clubs in India, she went to the Canadian club, Manitoba Bisons on August 14, 2019.
Dalima was a grassroots football coach with Indian Super League (ISL) club Delhi Dynamos when she received her first call up for the national team.
Earlier, she had worn the blue shirt at the Under-14, 17 and 19 levels for the national team.
Dalima made her senior international debut against the Maldives at the 2016 South Asian Games.
The group stage encounter finishing goalless was held on February 5, 2016, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium (Shillong).
However, her first goal came in the semi-final of the 2019 SAFF Women’s Championship against Bangladesh.
India overcame The Bengal Tigresses 4-0 at Sahid Rangsala, Biratnagar, Nepal, on March 20, 2019.
She followed it by another goal in the 3-1 victory versus Nepal in the final at the same venue on March 25, 2019.
Dalima’s goal came courtesy of a 30-yards belting free-kick. With her rich form, she went on to collect the ‘Most Valuable Player of the Tournament Award.’
Dalima went on Twitter post-match, reflecting upon receiving the special accolade:
“Proud and honoured to receive the MOST VALUABLE PLAYER AWARD of the SAFF CHAMPIONSHIP, 2019.”
Dalima was part of the Indian squads, which won the 2016 South Asian Games, as well as the 2016 and 2019 SAFF competitions.
Dalima has also led the Indian women’s national team.
Sanju Yadav is one of the most gifted Indian female football players. The striker was born in Alakhpura Village, Haryana, India, on December 9, 1997.
At the age of ten, she got into football, primarily to acquire scholarships and finance for her poor family.
Sanju is the daughter of a farm labourer, Balraj Singh and his housewife, Nirmla Devi.
Gordhan Dass, a physical educator at the village school, recalls to the Times of India, “the amazing girl who was always focused on the game.”
He also mentions how Sanju’s humble hardships assisted with her endurance and football:
“Even while working as farm labourer, she chose to toil hard along with her father to increase her stamina. That helped her in the game.”
Playing for Alakhpura FC, she netted a hattrick versus Bodyline, registering a 4-0 win overall. This was during the preliminary round game of the Indian Women’s League on October 17, 2016.
She was the leading goal scorer during this phase of the IWL, helping her side to qualify for the final round.
She had scored 15 goals from ten appearances for Alakhpura during the 2016-17 season. This meant she had racked up more goals than games played.
Sanju has also represented other teams, including the IWL side, Gokulam Kerala Football Club.
She was part of the Indian squad, which won gold at the 2016 South Asian Games.
Sanju’s debut match at the South Asian Games was quite memorable for her. This is because her first international goal came versus Bangladesh as a debutant.
India beat Bangladesh 3-0 in the final group stage encounter on February 13, 2016.
In addition, Sanju is a two-time SAFF Women’s Championship (2016, 2019) winner. She had 11 goals by the time she had played twenty-eight international games.
From an international perspective, she was adjudged the 2016 AIFF Emerging Playing of the Year.
It is quite evident that these Indian female football players are pioneers within the sport. They are an inspiration to many and are spreading the women’s game further in India.
No doubt many more iconic female players will emerge and become notable role models for future generations.