IT’S baffling why boys have this strange idea girls can’t play football. Is it because girls are just too delicate or wimpy? To my knowledge, I’m neither, and there’s such a thing as women’s football, which, by the way, is an Olympic sport and one that I champion on and off the football field.
I happen to be very good at the game, playing mostly mid-fielder, sometimes striker, with two different teams in the National Public School International for close to three years now. Since then, I have scored 13 career goals, not counting those from friendly games.
Even though I’m only 13, which makes me part of the under-14 team, I also play for the under-16. That’s because they are under-staffed if you could call it that: to fill their missing team members, they have turned to younger players like me, five of us in all.
While this is a clear sign that football isn’t exactly popular among the girls in school compared to say, basketball, the bright side is this: we chose to keep the under-16 team rather than kill it. That, in itself, is a morale booster, as much as an encounter with gender prejudice would be, strangely.
It happened one afternoon over a free period two years ago when four of my boy classmates and I headed out to the field to play ball, which wasn’t exactly one but an empty root-beer can. Then came another bunch of students from a lower grade, also having a free period, who had with them a football. Naturally, we asked them if we could borrow it. Sure, but could they join us? But, of course.
And so, this group of seven played with us, except that shortly after the game started, one of them came up to me with a leering hiss: “Get off the field! Girls aren’t allowed to play football.”
“Get that stupid look off your face,” I barked back. “I’m sorry, but that’s just your face.”
With that, I charged towards the ball with so much fire and fury my classmates and I ended up winning that informal game 2-1. Of course, after the game, and throughout that day and subsequent ones, I was seething, replaying those words in my head, trying hard as I could to tear that ugly loathsome face from my mind.
Why would anyone say that to me, or to any other girl for that matter?
Somehow, his words had such a profound effect on me, making me play football with such dedication and determination just because I wanted to prove to him, and others like him, that girls are equally capable of a sport so many consider to be the domain only of boys and men.
Certainly, there is no denying that the real football, the football that rakes in all the big bucks, the football that makes fans go crazy each football season are played only by men, across Europe, even in Singapore.
But here’s my second story to counter this sad truth. There are many training programs, one-day tournaments and championship leagues in Singapore that are open to girls. In fact, in September 2012, the all-boy Fandi Ahmad Academy gave me a thumbs up to my application to train with them, making me the only girl out of over a hundred other boys. That wasn’t all.
I managed to out-dribble and out-tackle a number of boys, so that when I overheard one of them telling another, “You know you just got tackled by a girl, didn’t you?” I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to feel: flattered or insulted, given that somehow, somewhere, I couldn’t help catching the sexist undertones that girls can’t possibly dribble or tackle, or play football, period.
That’s something I don’t think about too much these days, even though time and time again, I always hear the boys say that. Why let such thoughts deplete your energy and get you down? Besides, we’ve been having plenty of good things going since our school unveiled our very own girls’ soccer team in 2011.
In our first showing at the annual Athletic Conference of Singapore International Schools (ACSIS) tournament, we clinched a silver medal trouncing Overseas Family School 5-0 and United World College East 4-1. This was the ultimate rah-rah for us, spurring us to a gold medal performance the year after—a smashing victory that saw us winning every single match from the preliminaries to the quarter- and semi-finals, and even the grand final where Global Indian International School Queenstown conceded defeat at 1-4.
Sure, there’s a thrill to winning, but football is more than just that.
Like every other kind of sport, it’s about shaping character through discipline, focus, grit, hard work, never giving up—all the qualities that give meaning to the word sportsmanship. And being a team sport, football also teaches us team work. But I guess the greatest lesson I have gathered from the game is humility: how can we be humble enough to keep an open mind to new ideas, to see through our weaknesses, and not get sucked into smug complacency?
Certainly, this is a question that applies not just with sports, but everything else we pursue in our lives. Would it ever be possible for us to move forward if we always rested on our laurels? That’s the sort of question humility throws at us when we become a little too confident.
For this reason, I admire Lionel Messi for giving back to society through his Leo Messi Foundation which helps underprivileged children. While I have no outsized dream to play soccer at the Olympics, football has been a teacher to me—not a real walking and talking person, but one that has given me some concrete life lessons.
And to think that when I was first given a taste of the game as a three-year-old, the poor football my father kept tossing and kicking my way was met with utter nonchalance.
Life sure takes us to unexpected places.
Arunima Sircar, Grade Nine