Former India women football captain Bembem Devi dedicated her Padma Shri to women’s football in the country and hopes her achievement inspires the up and coming generation of girls to take up football as a sport.

“This is a recognition to women’s football in India. This is an eyeopener to all who believe you can’t go places playing women’s football in India. I hope this will inspire all the girls and their parents to believe the ‘beautiful game’ can make you reach higher echelons,” she told AIFF.

“This is the year of the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2020. This Padma Shri award is for the next generation of girls who will play, or take up the sport some years later.”

Devi, 39 has been a flagbearer of India’s women football for close to two decades and became the first woman footballer from the country to be awarded the Padma Shri. Nicknamed the “Durga of Indian Football”, Devi is currently involved in spreading awareness about Women’s football in India, and also won the Arjuna Award in 2017 for her contribution.

Devi has scored 12 goals from 33 matches for India and has twice been named the AIFF Woman Footballer of the year – in 2001 and 2013. One of the few former footballer to have taken up coaching, Devi said in no way will winning the Padma Shri bring about any change in her.

“Professionally, it feels nice when your contribution gets recognised. I need to thank the All India Football Federation for their support and push. I have been associated with the U-15 and U-16 National teams as an Assistant Coach and was also one of the Coaches for the U-17 Women’s tournament in Kalyani,” she said.

Devi revealed winning the award was a moment of satisfaction for her and it motivates the 39-year-old towards future assignments and endeavours.

“It’s an honour to be in the same club as the Late Gostho Paul, Late Sailen Manna, Chuni Goswami, PK Banerjee, Bhaichung Bhutia, and Sunil Chhetri. They are real legends, people whom I have heard about, and looked up to during my career,” she said. “But I feel this is just the beginning for women’s football. I see more women footballers coming up to join the club.”

“I have been associated with the U-15 and U-16 National teams as an Assistant Coach and was also one of the Coaches for the U-17 Women’s tournament in Kalyani,” she added.