Monday, December 8, 2014

Lakhon mein ek

“It was a matter of great pride and honour for me to wear the Indian Women’s football team jersey and be a member of the winning team at the 3rd SAFF Women’s Championship 2014,” shares the right-back of Indian women’s football team Lako Phuti Bhutia.
21-year-old Lako Phuti is back home in West Sikkim on a month-long break after having played for the country at the 3rd SAFF Women’s Championship held in Islamabad, Pakistan. During her visit to Gangtok earlier this week, Lako shared stories of her initiation into football, the experience of playing international football and her future goals.

Lako Phuti hails from Shreebadam in West Sikkim and is the daughter of proud Mikchen Bhutia and Pema Lhamu. She is also the younger sister of Nima Lhamu, who had preceded her to the Indian women’s football team.
Her introduction will be incomplete without mentioning the name of the Girls Football Academy of Mangalbaria, West Sikkim run by Palden Sir [Palden Bhutia]. GFA provided her the foundation from which she catapulted to excellence. It was at this academy that she honed her skills and began the process of dribbling her way from remote west Sikkim to the astro-turfed success of lifting the SAFF trophy in Pakistan.
About her recent SAFF Championship experience, Lako shares that this was the fruition of a goal she had set for herself – of earning her place in the senior Indian women’s football team by the 3rd SAFF Championship.
“I had set the target for myself to play for the country in the SAFF championship and it was with this goal in my sights that I worked and trained. When I achieved it, every drop of sweat and every sacrifice became worth it. It was with great honour and immense joy that I kitted up for the senior team. The feeling of playing with senior experienced players of the country cannot be explained in words; it can only be experienced and treasured,” she shares.
The SAFF Women’s Championship was her second opportunity to play in the senior women’s football team as her debut was in the year 2012 when she played for the senior team in the AFC qualifiers in Palestine. It was however only in Islamabad earlier this month that she was part of the national squad for an entire tournament; the AFC match of 2012 having been a one-off qualifier match.
“It is a great feeling to come out on the field in the national team jersey and I want to now play continuously for the country and in the process earn even more recognition for Sikkim and my football academy at Mangalbaria,” she shares. She beams as she points out that she is the only girl from Sikkim to have played in a SAFF tournament.
She further mentions that she wants to set an example and disprove people who think that girls cannot play sports at a professional level. “I want to make a career out of football and in the process encourage more girls to take their football to higher levels,” she stresses.
After a month-long break she will be leaving for the India camp scheduled for January next year to prepare for the Olympics qualifiers scheduled to begin in March.
In her message to upcoming girl footballers, Lako Phuti underlines that they should work hard and trrain with complete dedication always aiming to excel in their respective sports and with the ambition to make a career out of it. “In the country now, there are opportunities and scope for girls to make careers out of football,” she believes.
Ask her about her initiation into football, and Lako Phuti informs that she joined the Girls Football Academy at Mangalbaria in 2006. There she received basic and formal training in football under coach Palden Bhutia.
Her love for the sport had however developed before that. “We used to play football with a handmade football on the ground near our home,” she shares. Her fellow footballer on the ground was her elder sister Nima Lhamu was selected in the first batch picked for Pladen Sir’s GFA in 2005. Next year, Lako followed her elder sister into formal training at GFA.
At GFA-Mangalbaria, she started to receive formal training and started to play first in the district level and then in the state level. “For my first state level tournament, I came to Gangtok for the first time,” she states.
“When my sister Nima Lhamu was playing for India, it motivated me to play for the country as well and when I saw [on my sister], the jersey of the national women’s team for the first time, I resolved to spare no effort in getting picked for the senior team,” she said.
She gives full credit to the GFA and her coach, Palden Sir for the support and training that enabled her to read this level. “Palden Sir has been the most instrumental in helping us reach up to the international level from a rural area of Sikkim. If he had not been there, it would be difficult for us to even reach state-level quality,” a shy Lako Phuti said.

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