Bhandari on course of becoming all-time bestNepal’s star striker Sabitra Bhandari, who netted her 25th international goal in her team’s 4-0 semi-final win over Sri Lanka in the SAFF Women’s Championship in Biratnagar on Wednesday, is on course to become country’s all-top scorer.
Nepal’s star striker Sabitra Bhandari, who netted her 25th international goal in her team’s 4-0 semi-final win over Sri Lanka in the SAFF Women’s Championship in Biratnagar on Wednesday, is on course to become country’s all-top scorer.
The goal on Wednesday was third for the 23-year-old in as many matches in the tournament. She drew level with Jamuna Gurung in second in Nepal’s all-time highest scorer. She is just 10 goals shy of Anu Lama, who has 35 goals for Nepal, and the young striker has enough time to overhaul the mark. “She is young and dedicated player, the best forward of the sub-continent. No one can match her speed in the South Asia. She is on course to break all the records in Nepali women football,” coach Hari Khadka said. “Most importantly, she has hunger and zeal required for a player to shine,” added Khadka who often describes her as the main weapon of his team.
Popularly known as Samba among her teammates, Bhandari not only likes to wear clothes usually associated to males but she also loves to appear “boyish” and does haircut to suit her choice. She learned early footballing skills playing with boys at her village in Pamchowk, Lamjung. “People have often called me dai/bhai (brother) due to my looks,” shrugs off Bhandari who has never ever grown long hairs. “My family never objected to my boy-like haircut which I had embraced since the childhood. I never had the feeling that I was weaker in anyway to the boys,” said the player who has 26 caps for her country. “I even preferred ploughing rather than take care of the kitchen.”
Her coach Khadka said its not just that she adopts the boyish looks but that her work-rate in no less than the boys themselves. “She is physically a very strong girl who is a class apart from rest of her teammates,” said Khadka. “Though she is technically sound she need to be more sharper.”
Bhandari started toying with football at the age of 12 and it was not the girls she played with but the boys of her village. “I was the only on to mingle with senior boys in my village,” recalled Bhandari who also played volleyball at the Shree Saraswati Lower Secondary School. “I loved the game very much and played football with boys during the tiffin break in the school. I never felt I was weaker than the boys in anyway.”
As the school offered education only upto grade eight, she joined Ganesh High School to pursue higher studies. “But the school lacked the sports environment and so I shifted to Amar Higher Secondary School just to get a chance of playing football,” said Bhandari.
After joining Amar School, she played football and volleyball with local Dibya Jyoti Youth Club. Her first taste of tournament came in 2013 when she played for Srijansil Youth Club of Khudi in Lamjung. “I donned the football boot for the first time during that tournament and I borrowed it from the seniors (boys). I still remember scoring nine goals in the tournament that we eventually won,” she said.
The following year she played another tournament at Ghale Gaun in Lamjung, her eight goals becoming instrumental in clinching the title. Referee Sukra Lama who was there to officiate the match was impressed with her performance and promised her manage better opportunity to her. “He called me for trial two months after the tournament. After a month-long trial with Nepal APF Club, they offered me a contract on August 2014,” said Bhandari who inked a monthly salary of Rs 5000 with the departmental outfits.
She was recruited at APF the following year as a constable. Currently, the APF has raised the salary to around Rs 30,000. “With the earnings I have been able to support my brothers in pursuing their education,” said Bhandari, the second daughter among four sisters and two younger brothers. Bhandari was remarkably called for the national team training camp ahead of the 2014 SAFF Championship. Not surprisingly, she made the final cut for the tournament. She came on as a 86th minute substitute in the first match of the tournament against Bhutan and even scored a goal just two minutes later. Nepal won the match 8-0.
Ever since Bhandari has been an integral part of the team. She holds the record of scoring first and only double hat-trick for Nepal which is accomplished during the 2016 SAFF Championship. She ended up becoming the highest scorer in the tournament with 12 goals. She has helped APF maintain their undefeated run in domestic football for the last three years.
With Nepal already in the SAFF Women’s Championship final against India, Bhandari looks to finally break the jinx of falling just short the title triumph. “We have never won the SAFF Championship and my focus for now is to accomplish that and hand Nepal the first ever silverware,” said Bhandari. “The morale of team is very high after defeating them for the first time during the Hero Cup in India last month. We are confident of beating them this time,” she said.