Image Credits: FISTO STAFF
Rising above social hate, poverty and negligence, the story of this Nepalese star will give you goosebumps. Her believe for the game and her determination to attain the unattained makes her stand out from the crowd.
Understandably, she made headlines, her 15 goals and overall performances in the recent Hero Indian Women's League was enough to show why she is now making waves in the Asian Women's football that is stacked with lot of talent.
Catch with us the incredible story of Sabitra Bhandari aka "Samba" who is the highest-scorer for Sethu FC in the recently concluded IWL.
EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW
When you started playing football and how were the initial years like?
I started developing an interest for football when I was about the age of 12. I shared the family with four sisters and two brothers which made it extremely difficult for my parents to concentrate on my football and try helping me. We were very poor and in the initial years I did not have a football to play with. Instead I used to play using a sock rolled up as a football. As I said we were too poor to afford a full set of football kit and professional training or practice sessions so my football dreams started with the sock I imagined as the Nike ball.
Did you face any challenges or adversities while growing up playing football?
I am really grateful to my family that they showed support in my interest and helped me to stay motivated throughout my football journey. However, everything was not a fairytale for me as the society could not accept the fact that a girl is playing football with boys wearing shorts and jerseys. They were constant with their complaints and nagging about me playing, and they bothered not only me but also my whole family. There were people who said my mother that I won’t get married unless I stop playing football and mixing with boys. Some even pointed to my family as uncultured and low on status who did not educate their daughter their about real life. I was mentally prepared for all the taunts and insults because I believed that what I was doing was not something you find very often in Nepal, so I did not care much about what the society had to comment continuing my love and passion for the beautiful game.
Who is that one person who has always been an influence with football in your life?
I would like to mention one of the referee from my neighborhood namely Sukra Lama, who connected me to football teams and officials in Nepal and also helped me to find a training center where I could sharpen my skills and work on my football techniques. He was the only one who saw a hope inside me initially and tried his level best to assist me with every possible means he had. I will always remember him as one of earliest push and inspirations in my football career and no matter under which coach I train, but I’ll always remember his words he used to say me before I appeared for any trials or selections.
How you got the chance to play in IWL for Sethu FC?
Sethu FC were interested in me and looked for a transfer to the club before the IWL. They contacted me through my coach who gave me the proposal of joining Sethu FC. The first thing I wanted to know about the club that which players are there, as I had some ideas about the Indian national women’s team and was aware about their star players. I came to know that players like Sweety Devi, Grace, Ratanbala Devi and Indumathi were already signed which boosted my confidence and I had no doubt about joining Sethu.
What are your views about the competition level in the IWL?
Since the time I came to know about this competition happening in India, I always wanted to be a part of it. It was evident that the competitiveness of the tournament was much higher than what we experience in Nepal. This time even the teams are more and the expectation levels of performing good is high in regards to each and every Indian national team player. These factors contribute to the success of the league as well as the teams participating in it.
How is your experience playing in a different place with different players for the first time?
I have been to India previously as well and absolutely love the football culture here. The climate here is the only thing that bothers me sometimes as back at home it is not this hot and sultry. I was aware of these playing conditions before for which am taking all necessary measures to stay fit and hydrated. Talking about players, they are amazing here and there is also a positive vibe around all the players in the practice and in the dressing room. Communication sometimes can be regarded as a problem, but when there are so many professionals in your team, factors like eye contact and playing styles helps us to understand other player’s demands owing to which we rely largely on the pitch.
What was your family’s reaction when they came to know that you are coming to India for playing a domestic league here?
My family’s reaction was priceless when they heard for the first time that I have been selected by a club all the way from India. They were so happy and proud for me that I cannot describe their feelings in words actually. They said that this is a rare opportunity for any Nepalese woman footballer which I received, and I should take the maximum advantage out of it and should play better than what I have played till this point of time.
How do you think you will be benefitted after your participation in the IWL?
India no doubt is the strongest among all the football playing nations in the SAFF region owing to which it’s league has to be the best among the lot. I regard playing experience and playing techniques as very important in respect to a player. My playing technique has proved to be right at the top since the time I have started playing for professional teams which contributes to me, being one of the best forwards in Asia. So my prime focus is on getting the most experience which I can gather by playing with a diverse set of players against players whom I know very little about. The experience I’ll gather from IWL will definitely act as a fuel in the long run to my football career which will help me to have an upper hand over my fellow teammates back at Nepal and also in the Asia region.
What you think about Sethu FC’s chances of winning the IWL this season?
I am almost convinced that we are going to lift the IWL cup this season and my belief is logical. I see Sethu FC having the strongest team in the tournament with an excellent set of young talents and experienced players. We (Samba and Anita Basnet) are here to add that extra feather to Sethu’s hat and provide the team with that extra push they desire from us. Sethu FC are the only team in the tournament to have got foreign signings which clearly shows their intent and seriousness they have for the tournament. These small things will add up to our huge success in the tournament which is quite feasible from my point of view. I have also promised all my well wishers back home that unless I lift the trophy, I won’t return!
How has football changed your life?
Football has been the biggest influence in my life which has helped me to grow both my personality and my character on the pitch. Football made me fearless and helped me to ignore the unimportant comments from the unimportant people in my life. It has given me innumerable laurels and honors throughout my career so far and has also helped me to represent my country to the world stage. It has made my family win the status battle against the society and is the only reason why people don’t bother about me getting married either!