Women’s football isn’t just for the movies
With the recognition of women’s football on the rise, there is no better time than now for Birmingham-based Saddiqa Shan to take a shot at it. The 21 year-old university student talks to Omar Mehtab about her journey into the footballing world and, how with the love and support of her family, she manages to juggle her busy lifestyle in order to make her dreams a reality.
Saddi – you’ve just come back from Spain for a mini-tournament, how was it?
It went really well and we were able to soak up a bit of sun too!
As a keen footballer, it must take a lot of passion and desire to be so involved in the sport. What interested you in the first place?
Having four brothers and two sisters, who are all into sport, kind of didn’t leave me any choice. There were no leisure centres around but we would kick a ball around whenever we had an opportunity. I loved my sports from a very young age. As I grew older, I yearned to play more. I was the first girl on the primary school team, captained my secondary school team, and went to academies at West Brom, Birmingham and Aston Villa to further learn and improve my skills. Boys in primary school didn’t mind me playing... they took it well because I was one of the best! The ‘girls can’t play football’ mentality did not exist because I showed them that I could!
Obviously you were very active, but did the added responsibilities from growing up hamper your playing chances?
Well I found it difficult to make the academy training sessions, so I was forced to stop. I started playing again in 2008, and joined Solihull Ladies. I felt that if I really wanted to pursue my interest in playing football, then I would have to make time for it instead of waiting.
How supportive are your family in your sporting endeavours?
Incredibly. From a young age, they realised that I had a strong passion and some talent, and they wanted to exploit that potential. Naturally, they were initially apprehensive. You don’t hear much of Asian women footballers. But after watching me play in a match one day, they quickly changed their minds. The whole family are collectively quite sporty, but it took some proving.
How do you balance everything? University, football, family affairs, a social life... It must be quite difficult…
The one thing I hate is that there is not enough time for it all. Between Solihull Ladies, my team at the University of Coventry, exams, my catering job at Birmingham City FC, and home affairs... I’m surprised that I still have legs to run on! But if you have a deep desire, then you will find a way. Always.
With so much time invested in football, have many opportunities come your way to further your career?
I once had an opportunity to go to the United States. They have a fantastic awareness and set up for women soccer players over there. But, I couldn’t go. I was only 18 at the time, and they had a fee that we could not cover. Being an Asian girl too, I was restricted. I couldn’t go over there without a male figure to protect or care for me during my stay. My family would have been too worried. And with the reason being football, which is unusual for an Asian girl to participate in, there was scepticism.
I’m sorry to hear that. That must have been quite devastating?
It really was. My heart was completely set on it. After passing a trial and interview at Old Trafford, I really felt as if I could go far. When you are younger, you have aspirations, but reality presents itself at the worst of times.
Is there any specific area of football that you would like to go in to?
My brother has taken the same degree as I have, which is Sports Therapy. I suppose that if my playing career does not set off, or even after, I would love to go into business with him. We plan to get experience with clubs, establish ourselves, and open a practice together. But I would love to take my football to America. It is only now that England is starting to pay more recognition to women’s football, but it is a totally different ball game out there.
What is your preferred position on the pitch, and how influential are you? I personally play as a defender because I’m not that skilful! But with your talent, I’m sure you usually play somewhere higher on the pitch?
Haha defending is an underrated aspect of the game, so don’t worry. I usually play on the wings or as a striker, but on the left hand side. I’m right footed, but I love cutting on the inside and use my skills to dribble past defenders. Without blowing my own trumpet, I would say that I’m quite influential. You have to have a degree of confidence to be able to play at your best, because if you don’t believe that you can do certain things in a game, then you probably won’t.
How do you maintain your fitness? Being a Muslim girl, it must have been demanding during Ramadan?
Well with the university team, I am usually a month behind due to fasting. But I still try to maintain fitness during Ramadan with core and cardio exercises whenever I can manage it. My average routine otherwise is the train practically every day of the week, play a fixture for my university team on Wednesday, one on Sunday for my other team, and work on Saturday. Sessions last around an hour and a half to two hours. So it is heavy. But at the university, the top sports club are rewarded with extra funding. This coupled with my desire to make the starting XI each week, and play a full 90 minutes, I make the effort. We always have to compete for a place, it is never just handed to you. A lot of fatigue and injury occurs as a result, but we are assigned with a sports therapist for treatments.
Do you follow a specific diet to go with this intense training regime? And do you ever find time to unwind? It really does not sound like it.
Oh, dear I really should, but I don’t! My diet isn’t very great to be totally honest. I grab and go most of the time due to the busy lifestyle I have, but I try to fit in home cooked meals, with plenty of pasta and protein, whenever I can. I really need to sort it out. I need to stop picking at crisps. In all honesty, football is both my work and my play. Aside from that, I watch soaps whenever I do get the time, or go out with friends. But football seems to be my life and I’m not complaining!
What would you advise our readers who wish to gain fitness and be able to last on a football pitch?
Cardio and core strength is key. But only by mimicking a 90 minute match can you gain match fitness. You can run for six to 10 miles and not break a sweat, but it is a totally different story when you’re on the pitch. There is a lot of stopping and starting in your running, the strength needed to hold off other players, the quick thinking and reactive responses...it seems simple, but it really isn’t. Get as much match practice as possible.
Do you have any final words of advice to give to our women who share the same passion as you do?
There is a lot of stigma attached to Asian girls playing football. We still have people questioning my parents’ decision to accept it. But they are not the ones you need to worry about. If you can get any bit of support, from whoever does care for you and wishes to see you successful in what you do, grab onto it. Take it to heart. You will find a way to break through with the passion and desire that you hold. Have your family engage or understand what you are doing. Take them to a game that you are playing in. Let them see how much it means to you. This is what happened with me. My dad turned up early to pick me up one day, and watched me play. That was the day he accepted it, and first smiled when it came to my evident enthusiasm for football.