Houriya Raising UAE & Gulf Women’s Football Game
How often do you meet someone with such a huge passion for football that unknowingly, she is tasked with a huge responsibility to change the mindset or culture of an Arab country that typically dominated
How often do you meet someone with such a huge passion for football that unknowingly, she is tasked with a huge responsibility to change the mindset or culture of an Arab country that typically dominated by the males? Houriya Taheri, the first Arab lady who received a professional coaching license and also currently representing United Arab Emirates (UAE) Women’s National Team, is the one whom the Arab women players, if not, real football lovers in the Gulf countries look up to. And we have the privilege to meet up with Houriya for a coffee in Dubai as she spoke at length on her love for the beautiful game.
JPF: You have an amazing football story started off as a goalkeeper turned outfield player. You became the first Arab lady ever to receive a professional coaching license. And you are recognized as the one who single-handedly developed a women football culture here in UAE, or probably in whole of Middle East. Able to share with us more?
HT: Appreciate the compliment. Yes, I started off as a goalkeeper and was once rated as the best Arab goalkeepers in the region. However, I had to stop for a couple of years as we did not have an official Women’s National Team. It was also during that period of time I decided to go for my coaching course. Thereafter, I got real busy with various coaching assignments that of course included the developing of more women players for the country.
Then came one day, the UAE FA approached me to help them form back the Women’s National Team. It was an honor for me honestly. Hence, I decided to gather the best players we have got in the country to form back the National Team. As I was considered inactive as a goalkeeper for some years, I decided to step down and gave the new goalkeepers the opportunity to shine. As the current National Team’s assistant coach, I would also fill into whatever positions which are available in the National Team to contribute in whatever and whenever I can.
JPF: How does it feel to be the first Arab lady to have the professional coaching license?
HT: I feel happy of course but then again, this is not exactly the top of the world achievement. Yes, I am the first lady in the Gulf countries to earn a professional coaching certificate but honestly what do we have in the Gulf countries? Gulf countries do not have much about women’s football. I do not want to be the first in such a thing without contributing anything. Hence, I will make good use of my experience and knowledge to nurture more talents and push the women’s football forward.
JPF: What makes you decided to take up coaching in the first place?
HT: I really love football a lot but I did not expect myself to be a coach one day. Apart from sleeping at home, I spent all my times helping out at Abu Dhabi Country Club (ADCC). It was then our National Team coach, also a FIFA instructor, Ms Connie Selby asked why not I joined her with the coaching. She said that at least I could help her with the translation (to the kids). I gave it a thought and I agreed. There after, I built up my coaching fundamental and also mastered the daily training programming and etc under her guidance. Then came one day, she told me I am all ready to go for the coaching course. So gradually, I got my AFC ‘C’ license in 2008. 2 years later, I got my AFC ‘B’ license, followed by my AFC ‘A’ license. During my coaching course, I also learned a lot from my experienced course mates such as former World Cup heroine, Sun Wen, Bai Li Li and also current Eastern Sports Club’s Chan Yuen Ting.
JPF: Is this coaching career ever a smooth one for you?
HT: For me, it has never been easy. At one point, the coaching instructors actually refused to present me with my coaching certificate although they praised me that I was one of the top trainees. Their rationale was I was without a proper football club. So when I returned to UAE, I went knocking on all doors of the men’s football clubs. I would ask to tag along with different coaches and assisted them in whatever they were doing so as to accumulate my coaching time and also gain experience. However, there were still challenges for example, I am not allowed into men’s changing room although I really hope that I could be inside listening to what the head coach was briefing.
JPF: The current Women football culture in UAE?
HT: The women football culture in UAE really goes a long way. Back then, we had only 7 women players. Now, we have about 2,000 women players playing in UAE. Started from 1 club, now we have 8 clubs in the first league. In additional, we have Women U14 & U16 league with 8 clubs per age group. Each league/age group, we have 8 training centers as well. All these teams receive support from Women Football Committee and UAE FA.
JPF: What are the challenges which Women’s football is facing in this country?
HT: There are just not many women coming out to play the sport. I mean it is not because women can’t play sports. For example, there are many women here taking up Jujitsu. There are many support for that but just not for football. But of course I know support doesn’t come easy – we have to work for it. We need trust and sometimes we need achievement to convince people to support us. And that is exactly what I am working very hard on to share, to achieve and to convince people to come forward to give Women’s football the support.
JPF: Which has to be your best memory while playing for the National Team?
HT: The best memory has to be the moment when you see your players applying what you have coached them during the game! Honestly, this is really heartwarming especially for a football coach. And if you are referring to best memory from my playing time with the team, not at the moment yet as we have yet to really play in a real competition. We do have some qualification games coming up against Jordan, Iraq, Bahrain and etc, good memory will be coming soon!
JPF: You played against Singapore Women’s team twice earlier this year.
HT: Yes, we played against Singapore Women’s team twice early this year. In the first game against Singapore Selection, we won 4-0. We were missing some regular players but everyone did well especially our young players. The girl who scored twice was just 16yrs old! For the second game, I think Singapore players were more prepared and took the game to us very well. And on our end, probably we took it too lightly because of the earlier win. Eventually, the second game ended in a goalless draw. Nonetheless, it was a fruitful training camp for UAE Women’s National Team.
JPF: What is your wish for UAE Women’s National Team?
HT: I really wish that Women’s football in UAE can continue to receive good support from everyone. UAE is one of the best countries in this world and I hope that that positivity can transfer into our women’s football and help the next generation of women’s players whom we have lots of great talents from the U14, U16 and more. And honestly, sometimes it is not how much money you are pumping into the development of football here, it is also the getting of right people, who have the knowledge, into the running of the organization here. So with the support and the right people in place, the next generation of women’s football will flourish in UAE.
JPF: Any wish for yourself?
HT: If I am correct, there is no Arab lady working in AFC (Asian Football Confederation). I think many think that Arab ladies do not have the capability to work at that level and I hope to prove many wrong. Indeed, there are many Japanese, Chinese and Korean working at that level but I don’t think they have the right knowledge on Arab countries. Nobody will know my country or Arab countries better than I do because I am from an Arab country. I believe I can be an asset to AFC.