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The Kid

My first memory of football was a drain. A treacherous gap 6-year-old me had to jump across to get to training. The ground that once used to be grass was now better described as patches of mud with a sprinkling of grass. Boots already caked in mud, brown spots flaking my pristine red socks, I attended my first football training.

My 2 brothers (1 older and 1 younger) had already been attending football classes at a club, JSSL FC, near our house. When I expressed interest in following them, my parents didn’t see any issues. I scored 12 goals on my first session and have since been trying to rehash that in a game. The closest I’ve come is 8 goals in a half in a Women’s National League (WNL) game while I was playing for Arion FC, but then my coach took me out. 

I played many sports growing up. There’s a framed photo that’s hung up on the wall of our house that I think quite accurately depicts how my time was spent as a kid. It’s a collage- 4 photos of me in 4 sports. Football, Chess, Track and Field, and Ballet. It’s probably coincidental that the size of each photo also seemed proportionate to the time I spent in each field. 8-year-old Danelle in an oversized striped jersey between two opponents, almost twice her size. Leg drawn up, grim determination set on her face. The ball flying out of the picture. The other equally large photo of an innocent looking Danelle, chin nestled on her crossed arms, grinning before a chess board. The other 2 portraits, both slightly smaller in size, stark in contrast. One is the picture of grace- head tilted with faraway eyes, arms perfectly poised, legs in peaceful balance- a ballerina caught mid-pose. The other a picture of maximal effort- muscles flexed, the sides of my shorts trailing with the wind- as I sprinted towards the finish line.

                   Work so hard, they can’t tell you no.

                   Work so hard, they can’t tell you no.

                   Work so hard, they can’t tell you no.

                   Work so hard, they can’t tell you no.

                   Work so hard, they can’t tell you no.

The Person

I read this quote once- “No one makes it through life without lots of assists.”- and it has really stuck with me. There have been so many people- family members, coaches, friends- that have been instrumental in my life and journey so far. 

My family, my parents especially, have been such big support pillars for me. They have been rocks in my life. The constants through everything, always there for me to talk to. Even now, more than 10,000km away from home, my dad often stays up to talk to me after my games or trainings. 

I’m eternally grateful for all the people who have played a part in my journey. Big or small, so many have offered advice, helped in different shapes and forms, or have just been supportive throughout the way. I only wish I will be able to pay it back not only to those who have helped, but to those young girls who just need that extra push and help to trailblaze their own paths in the future. 

Off the football field, you will often find me with a book in hand. Reading gives me the possibility to live multiple lives, travel the world, learn from mistakes, and have superpowers- all from the comfort of my bed. 

I also used to play chess competitively when I was younger. However, 8-year-old me had no patience for strategic calculations and playing out different patterns in my head. But I was good at it and although I didn’t particularly enjoy it, I did enjoy winning. I represented Singapore at 9 years old and was the under-8, 9, 10, and 12, National Age Group Champion. However, when the time came to choose between which sport I wanted to pursue, the choice was obvious.

Now, chess seems more like a relic from the past and unique openings or tactics will still have me chuckling to myself, reminiscing the old times. It’s ironic that I now play chess to relax or take my mind off something. 8-year-old me would have thought me crazy. 

The Advocate

Football and sport have changed my life in so many ways. Not many people can say that they’ve played their favourite sport in 3 continents and 18 different countries. Football has shown me how important sport is to society- it unifies people. It is why I strongly believe that more girls should be given the opportunity to experience the power of sport. 

As an athlete and a role model, I understand the responsibility to use my platform to try and enact change. To change mindsets around larger issues in the world through the lens of football. 

Football isn’t and shouldn’t be a male sport. A lot of my early years in the sport were spent playing with and in boys teams. The opportunities for girls to play the beautiful game shouldn’t be stunted because they were born a different gender. I hope girls competing with boys will not be unusual or awkward, but will continue to be met with more and more receptivity.

Footballers can have intelligent opinions. Many times, athletes are told to just keep quiet and play their sport. I don’t believe we should be pigeonholed to just play our sport. With the amount of attention and the spotlight that is often on many athletes, we should not just shun away from using our voices but instead, research and back up opinions or causes one believes in. Educate ourselves and then use our voices to raise awareness to others around the world. Hopefully then, we’ll be able to make the world a better place; one person, one voice at a time. 

Age should be timeless. I’m a huge believer that age shouldn’t be a factor. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough. Thankfully, the coach of the senior team at the time, Melisa Ye, also recognised that and had the faith to start me in my first game against Timor Leste. I was 14 years old. Scoring a goal on my debut, and writing my name into the history books of Singapore Football as the youngest (both male and female) to score at the senior international level, would not have been possible if coach Melisa thought me too young. 

I hope more girls will dream big, and with full support from their parents and society, chart their own paths. I hope the potential of aspiring athletes will not be limited because they were too young. That they will believe wholeheartedly that they can shape a better, more equal society for the future they will live in.  I hope for more.