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Making Herstory in the world of the Beautiful Game

This International Women’s Day, we are celebrating the unwavering resilience of female trailblazers in football and shed light on their sentiments and aspirations for the sport. 

In the world of football where the roar of the crowd often drowns out the voices of women, there exist the dreamers who have made the sport their life’s work for the Singapore women’s football scene and saw it through countless obstacles and triumphs. 

Following the news of China qualifying as the finalist in the 1999 Women’s World Cup, the then president of Football Association Singapore (FAS), Mr Mah Bow Tan, mooted the idea of having a comprehensive women’s football programme in Singapore. 

“As the Personal Assistant to the Chief Operating Officer, I supported the then-appointed Chairperson of the Women’s Football Committee, the late Mr R Palakrishnan, to start up women’s football in Singapore,” said Julie Teo, who currently chairs the FAS Women’s Football Committee. 

With over three decades of experience in women’s football in both Singapore and Asia, Football Association Singapore Women’s Football Committee chairman Julie Teo hopes to bring the women’s game to greater heights. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng.

This kickstarted her 32-years-and-counting career in women’s football, and more importantly, launched the very first Singapore women’s league in August 2000, which had two divisions and a total of 14 teams. 

Illuminating the path ahead

Teo’s illustrious journey with football began in 1992 when she landed a role as the secretary to the FAS Executive Secretary. Although it was a secretarial position, her job extended beyond her desk to organising events like international friendlies and competitions to managing protocols and awards nights. As one of the few women to hold such a pivotal role back then, Teo is a pioneer in Singapore women’s football; a champion for women in sports before it was even commonplace. 

Teo, who is also the Assistant Director for Pathway Development at the Unleash The Roar! national football project, is active with several projects such as the School Football Academy (SFA) programme for secondary school girls, setting up of all-girls training centres at the SFA girls’ venues for under-12, and establishing women’s teams in Singapore Premier League clubs, to name a few. Her work is essential in ensuring that women athletes are well supported in their own sporting journeys. 

To make football more accessible to young female footballers, Julie Teo has been working closely with the School Football Academy (SFA) team and the Ministry of Education (MOE). In 2024, Deyi Secondary School was one of the few schools that joined the SFA programme, bringing the total number of SFA girls' programmes to five. Photo by Unleash The Roar!.  

She shared: “My work involves building up the processes, structures and programmes for women’s football in Singapore; these are challenges I enjoy very much.” 

As the saying goes, not all heroines wear capes. Like Teo, they come in various forms, from administrators, to players, to referees, all for the love of the game and to unleash its potential in Singapore. 

Abirami Naidu on the job at the AFC U19 Women’s Championship held in Thailand in 2019. Photo provided by Abirami Naidu.

Riding the growth momentum

From championing their unwavering love for the sport on our home ground to representing Singapore overseas, Singapore women are making their mark in the world of women’s football. In tune with the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, Inspire Inclusion, these women are pushing to bring football to new heights, both abroad and in Singapore. 

Abirami Naidu, the first Singaporean woman to officiate at the Under-17, Under-20 and senior FIFA Women’s World Cup, shares that she believes the women’s football scene is growing all over the world. “Local women’s football deserves recognition and support as it continues to grow and make strides,” said the former international footballer.

Tina Afrida (left) is excited to see what the future brings for future generations of females who want to play football. Photo provided by Tina.

Tina Afrida, another ex-international and current SFA Girls’ coach with Unleash The Roar! believes that “there is blooming potential, and with all the scholarships and initiatives we have today, it presents more opportunities for girls who want to take their love for the game to the next level”. 

Nurhafizah Abu Sujad, Singapore National Team’s head physiotherapist, working with Rochelle Chan, the captain for Hougang United FC women’s team, through her active rehabilitation therapy. Photo by Unleash The Roar!.

Singapore National Team’s head physiotherapist Nurhafizah Abu Sujad said: “There is a growing recognition and visibility of women’s football, with more players having opportunities to train both in Singapore and overseas.” 

For instance, 20-year-old Danelle Tan, a footballer for the Singapore Women’s National Team, is currently playing in Germany for Landesliga club Borussia Dortmund. “There are many more young girls playing the sport, but I think there’s still potential for growth and a lot more needs to be done if we want to take football in Singapore to the next level,” said Danelle.

Women’s football has made significant headway over the years with the women’s ‘A’ team notching their first SEA Games win in 37 years at the 2022 edition. The Women’s Premier League also secured its first-ever title sponsorship from Deloitte in 2022 and now has dedicated training grounds and subsidies to manage their teams. 

Danelle Tan on the pitch playing for the Singapore Women’s National Team at the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers against the Seychelles. Photo by Football Association of Singapore.

For Danelle, Inspire Inclusion is about “allowing and encouraging people from different backgrounds and walks of life to do what they want to do.” “If that’s football, it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl, you should be able to enjoy the beautiful game,” said Danelle. 

Priscilla Tan, a former Singapore international and current North Lakes United FC player and coach, focused on what it means to inspire the younger generation. She hopes that the programmes, initiatives and stories of homegrown young women breaking barriers in the football scene would encourage them to know that their goals are achievable and not just another far-fetched dream.

An uphill journey to greatness

That said, women’s football is still a work-in-progress in Singapore and there will be challenges to overcome in the road ahead. “Resources like manpower and facilities continue to be in demand, and women’s football in Singapore is still at an amateur level,” Teo explained.

However, one thing was certain: the optimism for women’s football is palpable. 

“We are seeing the fruits of the initiatives that we planted in 2000, like the growing number of teams in both the Women’s Premier League and National School Games. The smiles on the faces of the girls at their training and matches, and the success of my fellow women in football - they keep me going and remind me why I do what I do,” said Teo. 

She believes Singapore can build on the momentum in the women’s game. 

She said: “Last year, the FIFA Women’s World Cup received a surge in popularity worldwide. We now have more role models amongst our women players in the national team or who are headed overseas to further their careers to inspire our aspiring footballers. International matches like the AFC U17 Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers and ‘A’ friendlies were also hosted in Singapore last year.”

Queensland Premier League (Women) player Priscilla Tan was recently named in the QPLW2 Team of the Year and was nominated for QPLW2 Players of the Year. 

Added Priscilla: “We don’t want to stop here. There’s just so much more momentum that we can carry going forward. If someone wants to give back to the sport, the time is now. There is no better time.”.

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