Shot-stopper Panthoi Chanu eager to prove her worth during Australian stint

 Goalkeeper Elangbam Panthoi Chanu, a member of the Indian team, is excited to become the first footballer from the country to play professionally in Australia.

Panthoi, who has been signed by Adelaide-based Metro United, looks forward to prove her worth and learn during her stint in Australia, where she will play in the South Australian Women’s National Premier League.

The 28-year-old gritty goalkeeper, who has been mentored by the legendary Bala Devi, is open to embrace the new challenge. “I don’t know much about their playing style, which is different from ours. I will try to adapt and play well. I will have six months, which is a long time and we don’t get to play that long in India. I will try to gain from that experience. I have to show that I am good,” said Panthoi, before leaving for Australia.

Panthoi, backed by Women in Sports, caught the eye of Adelaide United FC during a trial, attended by head coaches from prominent teams such as Western United FC Melbourne, Perth SC, WFC Dinamo Zagreb, and Marbella FC. Following their recommendation, Panthoi found her way to Metro United WFC. This significant move not only serves as a boost to her confidence but also provides a platform for her to excel and gain valuable experience in the global football arena.


Panthoi, backed by Women in Sports, caught the eye of Adelaide United FC during a trial, attended by head coaches from prominent teams

Bala Devi feels the one-month stint in Spain last year taught Panthoi a lot about managing injuries and exposed her to quality training

Panthoi began playing club football with Eastern Sporting Union in 2012, moved to Manipur Police and returned to ESU

The role

Metro United head coach Paul Morris explained the role of the Indian recruit. “Panthoi will come in as our first choice goalkeeper. She will train with the first team. We will use her experience and knowledge. We have a young 18-year-old goalkeeper who is our reserve goalkeeper. How it works in Australia is we have a fully professional league, which is the Women’s A-League, in which Adelaide United participates in. We play one level down, which is the Women’s National Premier League (WNPL). We have 10 teams.

“We are delighted to have signed Panthoi for the 2024 WNPL season here at Adelaide. She is a top class goalkeeper with international experience, she possesses all the qualities you look for in a goalkeeper and will be a great addition to our squad, everyone associated with Metro United is looking forward to welcoming Panthoi,” said Morris.

“Panthoi will train with Adelaide United with full-time professionals, full-time coaches. It will be a great opportunity and experience for her to train alongside them, to work with a full time professional club.”

She will play professional football in Australia until the conclusion of the season in September this year.


Remarkable rise

Panthoi’s stint in Australia should be worthwhile as the country has risen remarkably in women’s football and has developed a favourable culture for the sport. It hosted the Women’s World Cup in 2023 and creditably advanced to the semifinals. Of late, the Australia national team’s matches have seen record-breaking attendance, with every match being sold out. This surge in support reflects the growing strength and appeal of women’s football in Australia, promising an exciting future for the sport at all levels.

Going back to her 10-year-old association with Panthoi, Bala Devi says, “I have known Panthoi since the 2014 National championships. She was young and was passionate about the sport. Since then, I have been supporting her. She had two shin injuries at the same place within one year, first in January 2021 and then in January 2022. The shin of her right leg was split horizontally. Normally, a player would have quit the sport after picking up such an injury, but Panthoi fought back brilliantly.

“The one-month stint in Spain last year really taught her a lot about managing her injuries, exposed her to good training and built her confidence.”

Panthoi made her comeback in a friendly against Nepal last year, showcased her goalkeeping prowess in India’s recent matches against Kosovo and Hong Kong in Turkey. “I became mentally stronger after my injuries. I was determined and told myself, ‘Mere paas jo talent hai, woh sobko dikhana hai,’” notes Panthoi, who has represented India in under-16 and under-19 before graduating to the elite level and donning the National colours 12 times.

Panthoi, who began playing club football with her stint with Eastern Sporting Union (ESU) in 2012, moved to Manipur Police and returned to ESU before joining Metro United.

Staying calm

Hailing from Keirak village, which is an hour’s drive from the state capital Imphal, Panthoi stayed calm even during the phase of violence in her state Manipur. “During the troubled times, we used to finish our dinner early, pack our bags and stay ready to get into the vehicle and leave (in case any problem arose). The situation is much better now,” says Panthoi with a sense of optimism.

Coming from a state, which has produced plenty of top woman boxers and weightlifters, her love for football has been everything for Panthoi – who as an under-12 footballer once met multiple World champion boxer state-mate M.C. Mary Kom in Bhopal but did not know who she was. Football has been pushing her to do better as she believes in the values the sport teaches

“Everybody wanted me to pursue education, but football is also education. Earlier, girls were not encouraged to take to sports, but it’s good that girls are now coming out and playing,” said Panthoi.

While wishing Panthoi all the best, Bala sees this as a stepping stone for Indian women footballers. “It was not easy and there were not any opportunities to play overseas. Now several of our girls are going overseas to play, which is a good thing,” said Bala.

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