Talitha Tan: Breaking grounds as a female footballer

“It motivates me to rub it in their faces when I can prove that I might actually be better than them.”

Talitha Tan is no ordinary girl next door. Take a peek at her Instagram profile and you’ll realize she’s not just another pretty girl – she’s one of the boys too. Never afraid to get her hands dirty, her thirst for adrenaline got her dabbling in football, parkour, motor sports and more. We find out what makes her tick, her love for the beautiful game and her role in empowering women to take men on at their own game.

BOOTHYPE: How did you get started with football?
Talitha: Football is my first love. In my first few years in government school (in Malaysia), they didn’t allow women to play football. I think it was due to the possibility of body contact with guys and they didn’t want girls touching guys.

BH: They didn’t have an all-girl team?
TT: Unfortunately there wasn’t enough girls who wanted to play to form a school team. However, I think they’re quite open now as compared to those few years back.

Talitha Tan - @talithabe
One of the boys.

I eventually moved to an international school. That’s when I told myself, “I’m going to pick up football here. I don’t care, nothing’s going to stop me. I’m going to be good at it.” I would play every day. We had a 15 minute break and an hour’s break during a school day. I would eat during class time and take to the field during the breaks. I wore shorts underneath my skirt to get ready for every game. After school, I’d cycle to the park and play more football! That was my life everyday.

BH: Who were you playing with?
TT: I played only with guys.

BH: How’d they take to you joining in their games?
TT: Initially they were more gentle. They didn’t want to tackle me hard or push me down. I hated it at first as I’m not that kind of girl. I’m tough. I can take a hit. Soon, they got used to playing with me and could hit balls to my face and didn’t care any more!

Talitha Tan - @talithabe
Talitha in her Mercurial Vapor XIII

BH: What position did you play?
TT: I never see myself as a striker. It’s just so much pressure. I rather stay back in defence. I can read the game and anticipate where the opponents are going to pass the ball. I like intercepting the attacks. It’s fun!

I’m tough. I can take a hit.

BH: What boots do you play with?
TT: My favourite pair is the pink and white Mercurial Vapor VIII from the clash pack (2012). It’s got a glass fiber sole plate. I like the barefoot feel when wearing them, like I can have better control when I’m in them.

BH: What’s in your gym bag?
TT: I recently ran a half marathon in Bali and I wore the Nike Zoom Pegasus Turbo. I love it so much. I’ve done 4 half marathons and in 3 of them, I couldn’t move much after. In the recent run, I had no major pains in my body and I could still walk around after the run. I like the Nike tights, the thicker compression ones.

Talitha Tan - @talithabe
Half marathons are all in a day’s work for Talitha.

BH: Is football growing for women in Malaysia?
TT: There are more girls who play now for sure. There are all-girls teams that I see playing at the park.

BH: Do you feel that your Instagram account has encouraged more women to take up football?
TT: I do like that I encourage the idea that just because you’re a girl, it doesn’t mean you can’t play the game. You can allow yourself to enjoy football and it’s not that intimidating. Most of the sports I pick up (parkour, rock climbing etc.) aren’t the most feminine sports too. I’ve never gotten any negative feedback on social media. The most negative one I’ve received is someone saying “Oh hey you’re a girl, I didn’t know you could do such things.”

BH: How do comments like that make you feel?
TT: It makes me want to prove them wrong. It motivates me to rub it in their faces when I can prove that I might actually be better than them.

BH: You did a post for Milo in which you did planks with over 30kg of Milo on your back. Tell us more about that insane photo.
TT: I’ve done heavier! I’ve had 80kg on my back before through lifting. It was so hard to get the shot done though. The crates aren’t stable so they keep leaning to one side. But eventually we got the photo done.

Talitha Tan - @talithabe
30kg on her back. Easy peasy.

BH: You dabble in a lot of different sports. Why?
TT: I have commitment issues haha! Seriously, I get curious about all these new sports and I want to do every sport out there. I want to be a skydiving instructor if I could. I almost got into equestrian. You get to jump with the horse, that’s quite an adrenaline rush. You’re working with a living thing. I’m trying out mountain biking and it’s scary because you have no control over the speed and you have to follow through with the momentum.

BH: You posted a video by Nike about a rallying call to women. What drew you to it?
TT: I liked the message about female empowerment and also the fact that they showed many different sporting backgrounds which I can relate to haha. There was skate boarding, weights etc. and I liked that.

It’s true that guys are stronger but it only means that girls work that little bit harder to get there.

BH: Have you sustained any injuries?
TT: Yes, quite a few. My first was from football when I played ‘keeper. The game hadn’t even started yet but I heard someone strike the ball. Instinctively, I reached out my hand to palm it away and it hyper-extended my hand backwards. It was a very bad sprain. I tried to shake it away but the pain grew as the game progressed and I had to stop. I had to hide it from my mom as I didn’t want to give her a reason to ask me to stop playing.

I had another one from rock climbing. My partner, she gave too much slack to the rope and when I fell, I grabbed onto the wall. The impact caused a slight dislocation on my back/shoulder but it popped back in. My shoulder clicks often now.

BH: What’s your regular training regiment to cope with the different sports?
TT: Every sport that I’ve done, they all seem to complement each other. Especially parkour – it has prepped me for the other sports. It helps you understand your body, strengthen your core and balance. I got into rock climbing from there too. Conditioning work which includes lunges, pull ups improves my strength. That’s important for me.

Talitha Tan - @talithabe
Perfectly balanced.

BH: Do you have any role models that you look up to?
TT: Yes, there’s Katie McDonnell. She’s a Ninja Warrior UK Finalist. I admire her strength, her flexibility. I don’t think she has a gymnastic background so she’s had to work hard to do what she does. She’s quite rugged and she lives her life the way she wants to.


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A post shared by Katie McDonnell (@katiemcdonnell) on

BH: How supportive is your family that you’re doing something quite different like this? On top of fitness, you’re doing music too, no?
TT: My parents knew that I wasn’t much of an academic. After college I took a gap year, I released a music single and things went well for me ever since. My mom is very supportive but it took my dad a while to get used to this path I’m taking.

BH: You mentioned your love for these “not very feminine sports”. Why do you tend to gravitate towards them?
TT: They all provide me with an adrenaline rush. I guess people have that mindset that girls don’t like adrenaline but I thrive for adrenaline. I do dirt biking and enjoy flying. With parkour, I like climbing buildings. I like the thrill of it. And I like showing that girls can do all these things too. Sometimes there’s an idea that it’s harder for girls to do these sports. It’s true that guys are stronger but it only means that girls work that little bit harder to get there.


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A post shared by Talitha. (@talithabe) on

Follow Talitha on Instagram at @talithabe for more photos and videos of her in action.

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