From Feeding Cattle to Shattering Records: The Journey of Nepal’s Goal Machine Sabitra Bhandari

From Feeding Cattle to Shattering Records: The Journey of Nepal's Goal Machine Sabitra Bhandari

Sabitra Bhandari, enlisted by Guingamp, etched history as the inaugural Nepalese combatant, irrespective of gender, to partake in a European apex-tier match. At the age of 27, Bhandari’s transition to Europe epitomized the fulfillment of her perennial aspiration, as she exhibited her prowess on the august platform, signifying a monumental advancement for Nepal in global football. Nepal’s linkage to Europe had hitherto been confined to supervisory positions and juvenile auditions.

A Goal-Scoring Phenomenon from Nepal to France

Sabitra Bhandari’s path to professional football in France epitomizes a remarkable saga of resilience and relentless goal-scoring prowess. Facing adversity at nearly every juncture, Bhandari’s journey has been adorned with extraordinary achievements, including an impressive tally of 53 goals in 46 matches for Nepal and a near two-goal-per-game average during her stint in India. Her scoring record soared even higher in 2023, with nearly three goals every 90 minutes for Gokulam Kerala in the Indian Women’s League, an incredible feat particularly considering her comeback from a significant ACL injury. Her talent caught the attention of Israel’s Hapoel Ra’anana, though her tenure was truncated to five goals in two games due to the 7 October attack.

At 26 years of age, Bhandari’s inherent aptitude for netting points, which latterly materialized in nine tallies across quartet contests at the WAFF Women’s Championship in Saudi Arabia, emanates from a rudimentary albeit profound fervor. “My aspiration has always been to amass as numerous goals as feasible from the earliest memory,” she articulates with modesty. For Bhandari, positioning before the goal with the sphere at her extremities signifies a sanctuary wherein her assurance zeniths, a mental disposition enabling her to flourish remarkably on the global platform.

Defying Odds from Nepal’s Hills to European Football Fields

Transitioning from the bench into a cold, rainy match is daunting, a challenge amplified for Sabitra Bhandari following her significant leap in her football career. Yet, stepping out of her comfort zone has become a familiar terrain for Bhandari, who has navigated through systemic barriers far greater than the adversities faced on the pitch. Battling patriarchal norms, economic hardships, and resource constraints, her journey to success is nothing short of extraordinary.

Bhandari’s football passion ignited with a makeshift ball of old socks in her village, located 62 miles northwest of Kathmandu. Playing in rugged fields was one challenge; concealing her passion from her family was another. “I used to hide it below my bed,” she reminisces, revealing the lengths she went to protect her dream, including burying the ball to keep it safe from disapproving family members.

Bhandari, a recalcitrance and resolute maiden, revolted against societal anticipations of domiciliary roles by adopting volleyball and football, frequently engaging unshod with lads. She preserved a stringent regimen, encompassing antemeridian tasks, to harbor her ardor for football.

Reflecting on her journey, Bhandari views those early challenges as pivotal in shaping her resilience and determination, attributes that propelled her to later success. A defining moment came when she led a team of school friends to victory in a local women’s football tournament, scoring both goals in a 2-0 final win. For Bhandari, every sacrifice made in pursuit of her dream has been worthwhile, underscoring a story of perseverance and triumph against the odds.

From Barefoot Goals to Professional Triumphs

Sabitra Bhandari vividly recollects the instance signifying her ascendancy initiation in football—a solitary tally originating from the midfield of a sludgy pitch, executed whilst unshod against shod adversaries. “I discerned the necessity of autonomous action,” she muses over her definitive maneuver navigating past numerous opponents to register from beyond the penalty area. This extraordinary exploit captivated Shukra Tamang, a locale arbitrator, propelling encouragement towards Bhandari for football professionalization and capital opportunities pursuit.

Notwithstanding her recent achievement of netting her inaugural goal for Guingamp, Bhandari retains modesty, considering herself an ongoing project with ample acquisition, particularly in the game’s technical facets. Encounters against teams such as PSG accentuated her own skillset deficiencies, a predicament she ascribes to her belated inception in structured football tutelage. “It was arduous,” she concedes, recognizing the professional football precipitous proficiency trajectory. Bhandari’s trajectory from an autodidact talent within Nepal to a European football acknowledged entity epitomizes her tenacity and ceaseless improvement quest, fueled by a zeal kindled on a shoeless, muddied pitch.

Sabitra Bhandari: A Beacon of Hope Amidst Nepali Women’s Football Challenges

Sabitra Bhandari, freshly commemorating her inaugural tally for Guingamp, vividly recollects the seminal strike that catapulted her vocation—a lone endeavor from the midfield, adroitly circumventing defenders unshod on a sludgy pitch, culminating in an extensive-range volley. This flash of genius captured the observance of local adjudicator Shukra Tamang, who exhorted her to pursue further prospects in Kathmandu. Notwithstanding her triumphs, Bhandari perceives herself as perpetually maturing, particularly in honing the technical and tactical aspects of soccer, acknowledging the precipitous acclimatization she encountered whilst competing against squads like PSG.

Bhandari expresses gratitude towards her Guingamp teammates for their warm welcome but shares her frustration over the state of women’s football in Nepal. The absence of domestic competitions and a structured development program for young talent are stark realities she faces. With the National Women’s League being suspended mid-season in 2022 and a looming two-year gap without domestic football, Bhandari is concerned about the impact on female athletes in Nepal, many of whom have left the sport or moved abroad in search of work.

Contemplating her decadal tenure epitomizing Nepal, Bhandari articulates apprehensions regarding pecuniary instability and the waning prospects for nascent footballers. Notwithstanding potential and fascination in women’s football, she frets the impetus might dwindle, imperiling her aspiration of clinching the South Asian Championship. Nevertheless, Bhandari sustains optimism regarding Nepal’s prospects on the global arena, envisaging the feasibility of triumphing in the SAFF Championship or securing a berth in the World Cup with sufficient backing and endowment. Her odyssey perpetuates to galvanize young maidens in Nepal, albeit she wrestles with the predicaments of guaranteeing a propitious future for them in football.

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About the Author

Born in Liverpool in 1984, Ian Fletcher, a distinguished betting expert, attained a Master’s in Sports Analytics from the University of Manchester in 2010. Between 2011 and 2019, he was engaged with various English football clubs, focusing on tactical analysis and player performance metrics. Fletcher has contributed to 12 academic papers, emphasizing the role of game tempo and set-piece efficiency. In 2020, he transitioned into the realm of journalism. Presently, Fletcher authors in-depth analytical pieces on football, exploring game dynamics and team strategies, and his expertise is sought after by numerous sports platforms.

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