Senior Women's Team
Down but never out, Panthoi determined to leave a mark Down Under
11 Apr 2024

Sruti Chakraborty
AIFF Media Team

NEW DELHI: In 2021, during the National Team training camp in Goa, goalkeeper Elangbam Panthoi Chanu suffered a fractured right shin that not only left her bedridden for two months but also raised serious doubts about her footballing future.

Little could one imagine that the athletic Manipuri would not only defy all odds to return to the pitch with a bang to clinch her spot in the National team again but would also travel to Australia to play in the South Australian National Women’s Premier League for Metro United WFC. Never before in history had an Australian club side recruited an Indian footballer.

Panthoi’s journey had always been difficult; no bed of roses was laid down on her path of progress. After she recovered from the career-threatening injury in 2021, misfortune struck again in 2022 when the injury resurfaced, sidelining her just before the AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022. But Panthoi remained resilient. She underwent two years of recovery and intensive training in Spain last year before making an inspiring comeback to the National Team.

The dogged determination 

Panthoi remained unstoppable. Simply. Last week marked a significant milestone in the career of the girl from Keirak Village, Manipur, as she debuted for Metro United WFC in a match against Football South Australia, showcasing her indomitable spirit.

“My debut match this week was a good experience for me, but I feel I have to get better in many areas that I am working on,” Panthoi told from Adelaide, Australia. 

“I joined the club a week ago, and the training intensity has been pretty good. All the girls are very competitive. I hope I will improve with more training and matches to come. Training has been going well and I am looking forward to playing as many matches as possible,” she added. 

Panthoi arrived in Australia in the first week of April and is fast adjusting to the new environment. “I'm starting to feel at home and really enjoying it here. The weather is pleasant and perfect for playing. Although the lifestyle is different, I am already adapting to it and getting used to the Australian accent,” the 26-year-old said.

Panthoi spoke about adjusting to the timing of meals, particularly dinner, and the variation in food, but as an athlete accustomed to frequent travel, she finds it manageable. 

“I am getting used to eating very early, especially dinner and the difference in the cuisine is the change I am getting to feel here. But being a sportsperson, it’s something I am used to with my regular travels. The climate is similar to that of Manipur in February, so I did not find any problem adjusting. The winter in Australia is approaching, so it’s going to get a bit colder,” she said. 

Treads into a fresh territory 

Metro United WFC was established in 2006 and currently have 10 teams playing in different Football South Australia competitions in 2023. “The players are mostly from Australia and are very friendly. I have had no problems adjusting to them. The Head Coach, Paul Morris, has been looking after me from day one, right from the airport, to ease me into the team and the system. The coaching staff and club management have been very helpful as well,” Panthoi said. 

In recent years, Panthoi has ascended to become India's premier goalkeeper. Before joining Metro United WFC, she played a pivotal role in the recent success of the Senior National Team, helping them secure the runners-up position at the Turkish Women's Cup held earlier this year.

Asked how she clinched the Australian club deal, Panthoi said: “I participated in a scouting camp organised by an organisation named Women in Sport in June last year. Coaches from various countries attended to scout Indian players.

“Adelaide United coach Adrian Stenta wanted me to make a move to Australia and said it would be good to start with a club this season at this level to get regular game time and adjust to the country and then try to step up to the A-League as well. He recommended me to Paul Morris, head coach of Metro United WFC, then he contacted my agent, and we confirmed the transfer a few months ago.”

 Joins the select club

Before Panthoi, Indian women players such as Bala Devi (Scotland), Manisha Kalyan (Cyprus), Dangmei Grace (Uzbekistan), Soumya Guguloth (Croatia), and Jyoti Chauhan (Croatia) had ventured to various parts of the world to pursue their international careers.

“It certainly feels good, as it’s a great opportunity to play in a strong league. I want to do my best and open the doors for more Indian players to play in Australia. There is a huge interest in Women’s Football in Australia after their recent success in the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023. There is also a women's football league at every level in all areas.

“My family is very excited about me playing here. The only thing that bothers me a bit is that I won’t get to see them in six months. But they are a constant support and have told me to play in this league as long as I can. I can’t thank them enough,” she said.

Lastly, when asked to give a message to her fans in India, the best goalkeeper of IWL 2017-18 said, “I would just tell everyone to work hard and grab whatever opportunities come their way. I have stepped out of my comfort zone to see what I can do at this level. Unless you do the same, you will never know what you can achieve.”

Related news