By Yensembam Samarjit
IFP snatched the opportunity to meet ‘Women Best Footballer of the Year’ from her busy schedule of practice and more practice. Friendly and always wearing a smile on her face, Oinam Bembem Devi of Pishumthong Oinam Leikai, Imphal is the first woman from Manipur to bagged the title of ‘Best Footballer’ for two times. The title is awarded by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for the year 2001 and 2013.
Her title easily earns her a berth among the sports icons of Manipur, but title alone didn’t make Bembem of what she is today.
She was born to late Oinam Nageshor Singh and Oinam (o) Ruhhini Devi of Pishumthong Oinam Leikai, Bemebem is the sixth among eight children; with two elder brothers, three elder sisters and one brother and a sister younger to her. She was born in the year 1980. Her love for games and sports did not affect her studies. Bembem is a graduate in Arts.
Bembem started playing football when she was ten. She remembers playing with the neighborhood boys at the Leikai playground. The year 1991 was her memorable year. Bembem was selected to play for Youth Armature Welfare Association (YAWA) club of Singjamei as a midfielder. From then on, Bembem got more exposures. She got selected in the National sub junior team in the same year. She has played for SUN club of Mongshangei, a women football club. At present, she is associated to Manipur Service Sports Club (MPSC).
1995 was another unforgettable year for Bembem. She was selected to play for the Indian Women Football team, followed by partaking in various Championships organised by AFC. Bembem was already a name in the 10th Asian Football Championship which was held in Malaysia, 1995. Indian women football team was able to secure 5th position in the 11th Asian football Championship held at the Peoples’ Republic of China in 1997. She also took part in the 13th Asian Games at Bangkok in 1998. After a series of International exposures, Bembem led the Indian national team as captain in the 2003 AFC qualifying competition at Thailand. Since then Bembem has been leading the Indian team in various international tournaments namely: pre-Olympic qualifying competitions at Korea, AFC qualifying Competitions at Tehran, 11th South Asian Games, 1st South Asian Football Federation Women’s Football Championship in Bangladesh, 2007 Pre-Olympic qualifying competition at Korea and India, another AFC qualifying competition at Tehran and India in same year; while in 2010 she lead Indian women team for 11th south Asian games and 1st SAFF Women’s Football championship at Bangladesh, FIFA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Round held at Bangladesh in the year 2011 and 2013 AFC qualifying Competitions at Palestine etc.
Moments that Bembem cherished
In a quick chat with IFP, Bembem shared that at first she was not sure about the kind of games she should play. But she realised football is her appropriate event after playing at the national level. Though she has reached her retiring age, Bembem still dreams to participate in the Women’s World Cup.
Her fifteen day training at Germany in 1997 is something that Bembem cherished till today. She said of all the matches she has played at the international level, the match the Indian team defeated Japan by 1-0 in the Asian Games qualifying round was her best performance, in her personal opinion.
Among her achievements, Bembem said, the best midfielder award in the 15th National championship at Rourkela, Orissa was an event she will ever remember.
On the 20th Women National Championship.
Bembem said Manipur team did a good preparation for the 20th National Championship. Practice matches were played with men’s team. There were lots of discussions regarding the game strategy with the senior players of the state. She said the coaches and managers from the Association were also very helpful during the preparations. When the state team played with the Railways in the Championship, Bebem was surprised to see her team mates playing with full energy, like the match was a final match. She could not see any signs of exhaustion among her team, they were determined of defeating the Railways.
Message for the upcoming players
To all those who want to play football seriously, Bembem said discipline is very much important. One must respect their senior, coaches and managers. While playing inside the field one must obey the rules of the game, showing emotions in the fields during the matches could run down the team spirit. It must be avoided as much as possible, Bembem maintained. For the upcoming World Cup, Bembem is all for the host team: Brazil.