Nepalese women's footballer Sabitra Bhandari has been making waves in the ongoing Indian Women's League (IWL). With 15 strikes in the fourth edition of the competition, Bhandari is the leading run-scorer currently, and has played a huge role in Gokulam Kerala's run to the semis. She also became the highest goal-scorer from Nepal last year, after she beat Anu Lama's tally of 35 goals.
Her journey, however, to the top was anything but an easy one. Born in a family of six, Bhandari started playing football with a ball that was made up of socks. She played without boots, and often played local tournaments barefoot as well. The Lamjung-born star's life changed in 2014 when she was playing a local club game and was noticed by referee Sukra Lama, who forced her to try out for a club in Kathmandu.
After impressing in the trials, Bhandari was given a contract with the Nepal APF Club, and was soon asked to play for the national team at the SAFF Championships in 2014. She has gone on to represent her country at the 2016 South Asian Games, and turned out at the 2016 SAFF Women's Championships as well. In that tournament, Bhandari made waves as she netted six goals against Bhutan to help her team win 8-0. She went on to score another 5 goals against Maldives in the following game.
She remains vastly impressed by the IWL, and credits the league for her recent improvement. “Hero IWL has improved me as a player. I had a dream of playing alongside Bala (Devi) and Kamala (Devi). Last year, I played against both of them and this year, I’m in the same team with Kamala. Every day, I get to learn so much from her,” Bhandari told AIFF Media.
“Bala has been an inspiration to all of us. I also have a long-cherished dream of playing outside of Asia. Bala’s success story will inspire more girls in Southeast Asia to play football seriously.”
The footballer, who has been gifted a signed jersey from Mesut Ozil, has played professionally in Maldives as well, and now aims to turn out for a club in Europe. Along with Bhandari, Anita Basnet of Nepal, too is playing in the IWL this year. She is representing Sethu FC.