Lila Tan

Lila wants to be a role model, both on and off the pitch


Lila earned her first cap in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers against Indonesia in September. Photo: Football Association of Singapore (FAS)


Lila Tan dazzles as much on the pitch as she does off it. As a model, the second runner-up at the Miss Universe Singapore 2021 pageant makes heads turn with her exotic Chinese-French looks. But the national women’s team midfielder can also wow crowds with her body feints and dribbling skills on the football field.


In fact, for someone whose other job requires her to take care of her looks and try and minimise any blemishes she may get from cuts and bruises, the tough-tackling 18-year old is not afraid to go hard into a tackle.


“When I’m on the field, all I ever think of is the ball and how badly I want it,” said Lila. “ I’ll go all out to get the ball. It’s football and not modelling when I’m on the pitch.”


Breaking stereotypes


As a young woman who finds herself in a unique position as both a sporting and fashion role model, Lila hopes to use the platform she has been given to break down stereotypes people may have about women, football and models.


She said: “It’s a social phenomena that women are supposed to appear weak and frail and unable to participate in the more physical sports that are male-dominated. That’s absolutely not true because our femininity should not be defined by us appearing in a certain way. There is no reason why women cannot appear strong and powerful.”


For Lila, women can also make as big an impact as the men in the beautiful game.


“There were over a billion views for the 2019 World Cup, and that’s definitely an achievement for women’s football,” said Lila, a full-time student at Hillside World Academy, where she is in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program:


According to Fifa, 1.12 billion viewers watched the 2019 tournament in France. While the numbers still pale in comparison to the 3.57 billion who watched the 2018 men’s tournament, the percentage increase for the women’s numbers was a whopping 30 percent compared to only a 9.5 percent increase for the men’s game.


Added Lila: “We can only progress from here and beyond. Women’s football is slowly becoming more popular. It’s about time because we deserve recognition for all the hard work we have put in.”


Lila hopes to break down stereotypes people may have about women, football and models as she continues to make as big an impact as the men in the beautiful game. Photo: Football Association of Singapore (FAS)


How modelling has helped her football career


Being a model has helped Lila with her football as she believes both professions share common traits like keeping fit, looking after your body and eating right.


“I have to keep a healthy diet, and it’s very important to stay hydrated when I’m modelling,” she said. “I take care of what I eat because it also affects my physical appearance. And that’s the same for football as I have to maintain my shape to stay fit.”


Born to a Singaporean father and French mother, Lila had her first taste of football at 12 when she was growing up in Shanghai.


She said: “My dad’s a football fanatic, and I also have three younger brothers. I actually started playing football because of them.”


In just six short years since she kicked her first football, Lila can now boast of being a capped senior player for Singapore.


Only six years have passed since Lila first kicked a football. But after impressing national selectors in a trial after moving to Singapore two years ago, it was to little surprise that she received her first national team call-up and was subsequently named as one of the 23 players for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers against Indonesia in September.


Lila was on the bench in the first game but earned her first cap, playing for 65 minutes in the second match before being substituted by Lim Xi Lian. Although the women’s team bowed out of the tournament after identical 1-0 defeats to Indonesia in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Lila is optimistic about the future of women’s football in Singapore.


“The experience of playing in the qualifiers is something I wouldn’t trade for anything else in the world,” she said. “I bonded with the team, and it was my first international cap. It was a huge learning curve for us, and we were motivated to do well.


“Even though the results did not go our way, we know if we continue putting in the hard work, our time will come with the right support and infrastructure.”


With the Unleash The Roar! project ready to provide a structured football development system for both the men’s and women’s games, Lila hopes women’s football will start receiving more media exposure and support.


“There has been a lot of media coverage from the recent AFC Qualifiers, and that’s what we need,” she said. “That support must be maintained and be constant so that it can drive us forward. Even for our training and smaller tournaments, there must be constant support.


There are never enough hours in a day for the student, model, footballer and now entrepreneur, who has her own clothing brand. Being a national footballer has also thrust Lila further into the spotlight with numerous articles written about her.


Lila credits her modelling career for ensuring she continues to stay in tip-top physical condition whenever she puts on her football jersey. Photo: Lila Tan


“One of the toughest obstacles is trying to balance my schedule and priorities,” she said. “Playing football is one of them, and I hope I can continue to do that well.”


Her legion of fans, over 15,000 on Instagram and growing, might be looking out for her either on the pitch or catwalks. But like any other teenager, the 18-year-old can also get star struck if she meets her own football idol - a certain Argentina star who plays for French club Paris Saint Germain.


Quipped Lila: “Lionel Messi, I would love to meet him in person one day - I’m half French too!”


By Calvin Koh

November 16, 2021

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