Chris Yip-Au, one of Singapore’s shining lights in Women’s Football, speaks about challenging the status quo in Singapore.
As I ambled my way to the table for the interview in a quaint cafe near Jalan Besar Stadium, Chris was already sat there in her football kit and her tactics board on the table.
“I just finished my gym sessions and I’ve got to be ready for a coaching session later in the afternoon,” says the diminutive footballer who sat in front of me with unbridled enthusiasm that felt like she was just starting out in football. Chris, however, has been in women’s football for more than 10 years. You don’t stay in sports in Singapore, especially one that has been under appreciated and under represented, for that many years without a positive attitude.
How has women’s football changed in Singapore since she has started? What challenges has she faced in helping the sport grow? Chris Yip-Au spills the beans on what it’s like for women to play football in Singapore.
BOOTHYPE: So Chris, tell us more about yourself.
Chris: I’m a player for the Singapore Women’s National Football team and I also coach the U-19 Women’s team as well. I’m 25 this year.
BH: You’ve achieved a lot despite being pretty young. How did you get started?
Chris: I’ve been part of the setup on and off since I was 14 when I joined the U-16 squad. We went to Kuala Lumpur for a tournament and that I was my first time going overseas, let alone for my first competition. I felt that had a lot to catch up on talent-wise so I decided to play club football for a team called “Young Women” before playing for Arion Football. I’ve been with Arion for 10 years since.
I stopped playing football when I was 16 due to my studies but I started playing again in 2013 when I entered university. That was when I went for trials for the Senior Women’s National Team and got picked for the team.
BH: Tell me more about how it’s like playing club football.
Chris: Women’s football is not very well supported so it does have its challenges. Singapore’s a land scarce place so it’s very difficult for us to book fields for training and matches. It is expensive to book them too.
All women’s club teams are self funded so booking a pitch for 2 hours for $200 can be a lot, especially when most of the team is made up of students. Funding to keep the club going is one of the biggest challenges we have. Arion does its own fund raising and we sell new t-shirts annually. Our friends and family are very supportive.
BH: Who coaches your team?
Chris: Some seasons, our teams have a coach, sometimes we don’t, as we don’t have enough money to hire one. We mostly work with volunteers but that also means they can’t commit to this full time.
So players like me have to step up to coach. We work with what we have to keep the club going.
BH: Is that how you got started with coaching?
Chris: Coaching came accidentally. After my A Levels exams, my Secondary School coach approached me to help with her sessions while I was on my holidays. From then on, I coached at Arion’s academy, starting with small kids (under 6) and slowly moved up the age groups.
I have since attained the official Asian Football Confederation (AFC) coaching badges. I am a C-level coach and am a candidate for the “B” license.
BH: Has your playing experience helped with your coaching of the U-19 women’s team?
Chris: It helps though there are some strange moments where I coach them for the national team and then I play against them in the club league games! I think I’m a pretty good player so the players do respect me when I coach them.
BH: Any difficult situations when coaching?
Chris: Besides the national team, I also coach female youths at risk. This program is developed by Sportcares. Their age ranges from 13 – 18 years old. This program was started to keep them off the streets on Saturday nights and we keep them busy by learning how to play football.
I think many of them are low in confidence and they seek assurance and attention from people. They want to be accepted as their families don’t give them enough time. There are a lot of under-aged smokers and are not doing well in school.
Before our session, I’ll offer them some tuition. They’ll come an hour early and I’ll help them with homework. I do it out of my own free time and it’s not part of the program. I’m not paid to do this but I just want the best for these kids.
BH: Is there a reason why you go the extra mile for them?
Chris: I feel like I can relate to them. My parents went through a divorce when I was quite young. It was a trying period and I wished there was somebody there for me then. Now that I’m working with people in similar situations, I can be that figure for them – something I didn’t have when I was young.
I like checking in with them on a personal level and ask them about how their families are doing. They need care and concern and that builds trust. It’s not uncommon that they text me at 11pm asking for advice in their personal life.
BH: Is managing men different from managing women?
Chris: We’re a first world country with a third world mindset. I don’t have problems managing women but when I coached boys, many don’t respect me. I have coached guys in academies and they’re quite disrespectful. They have this idea that girls should not be involved in football, which is very backward. I hope this can change in the future.
BH: How would you describe yourself as a player?
Chris: I’m an attacking player and I usually play on the left wing or in the number 10 role. I am quite inspired by women’s football around the world. Players like Tobin Heath and Jess Fishlock who are playing professionally are great figures for female footballers like me to look up to.
BH: Best moment in your football career so far?
Chris: When I played for my school (Victoria Junior College). My school was very supportive of sports and we had a match at Jalan Besar Stadium with full stands, populated by my schoolmates. It was the first time playing in front of such a crowd. The icing on the cake was that I scored 2 goals. And one was a hopeful lob from close to the halfway line. The ‘keeper misjudged the bounce and it went in. A goal’s a goal!
There was also this one time I played at the Sports Hub for the Women’s Challenge Cup a couple years back. We were the first women’s team to play on the Sports Hub pitch and I scored 4 goals. The only other person to score 4 goals there was Neymar so both our names are on the list – side by side. That match also meant a lot to me as my girls from the youth at risk program came to watch me play. They cheered the loudest in the stadium. One of them posted on Twitter and said that she “hopes to be like Coach Chris one day”.
BH: We were at the unveiling of the new Singapore jersey where some of your female players endorsed it at the event. However, I hear that the female team actually doesn’t wear that particular jersey in matches. Am I right to say this?
Chris: Yeah that was just for the event. The jerseys we wear are made for the boys’ youth team. Not just in size but they’re also a totally different design though it’s still under Nike. Stuff like this makes us feel less important than the men. Why can’t we wear the official jersey? We’re the official national team too.
BH: What about other jerseys you own? Do you have any that brings about nice memories?
Chris: I love the Buriram 2019 jersey that I’m wearing now. I went with the U-15 girls team to Thailand as technical support for a tournament last December. They launched the jersey one day after we landed. The queue at the shop to buy this jersey was insane. The fans had so much pride for their team and I thought that this was something I could bring back and remind myself of how football should be like.
I hope that Singapore football, be it men’s or women’s, can be like this one day.
BH: What’s on your feet?
Chris: I have 2 pairs. One is the Nike Mercurial from the World Cup pack (white and orange) and the other is the Puma One 1 from the Stun pack. I have small feet so I have to buy it from Prodirect Soccer which stocks a wide range of sizes.
I like these boots because they fit my feet quite snugly. The Mercurial, especially, is a cool brand that I’ve always liked.
We wish Chris all the best in her future endeavours to play professional football for a career.