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Champion of Women's Football

2006, June 26

Monday June 26, 2006

Originally published in The Star on Monday June 26, 2006

A footie-mad Klang boy turned pro football coach has been quite the happy camper for 17 years, showing Kiwi ladies the best way to kick balls, writes IZUAN SHAH.

FOOTBALL seems to be in Macky Singh's blood. His Sikh lineage is richly represented in local football lore: former national defender Santokh Singh is still coaching young talent, while Serbegeth (Shebby) Singh, has gone on to become the country's most visible pundit ever.

For Macky , he knew he wanted football to be his life but wasn't sure whether he wanted to be a player or a coach.

"Eventually you come to a point when you know whether you're good enough or not," he says with a wry laugh. Today, he's still as into his coaching role as when he first started coaching junior girls as a teenager in 1988.

Born in Kuantan and raised in Klang, Macky migrated to New Zealand with his family when he was 15. He has been there since, coaching football players, both men and women, young and old, for almost 18 years now.

He enjoyed a spell as a player in his teens, playing alongside much bigger blokes in New Zealand's national league for a couple of years. However, the fast modern game often favours younger players with fitness and pace rather than raw talent and ability. Macky adds, "You get found out quite easily if you're not good enough at that level. I was coaching and playing at the same time then anyway, so when my playing went, I just zoned in on coaching."

Macky Singh is a coach to the Kiwi women's university level national team.

Though a life as a sports coach is all consuming, requiring his full commitment every day of the week, Macky has never regarded it to be just another job.

Running with ‘fit birds'

When asked about coaching football in a country where rugby is the national sport and the sports pages of newspapers more likely to splash the new Zealand All-Blacks rather than Real Madrid's Galacticos on the back page, Macky laughs. He points out that football is in fact the number one sport – among young women.

"You'd be surprised. For those 18 and under, soccer is their first choice. It's less of a contact sport, social and not as brutish. The great thing about coaching female players is that, they are very quick to learn," he observes. "And because it's not a natural game to them, they're also very eager, while the same can't be said about men players. Girls are also very professional about it and more disciplined."

In 1998, Macky was appointed the New Zealand women's national university team coach. He was to scout, select, care take and develop the players for international competitions.

"In the limited spare time off the pitch, I also do a fair bit of research and development work for the women's game there," he says.

Women's football is nothing to joke about: the level of play at international level is just as demanding and advanced. Grooming young, talented and dedicated world-class women players to compete at this level has been thecause for Macky and other coaches like him.

Macky subscribes to the view that the overall progress of women's football could be best served by giving them pure, old fashioned match practice – by playing games week in, week out.

"You have to give them some sort of incentive to be involved and play the game seriously in the first place. There has got to be a league," he states matter-of-factly. "If any football associations are at all serious about their women progressing in professional football, that is the least they can provide.

"I'm hoping that the women's game will develop because there are a lot of women out there who want to play the game."

Football for life

Humble to a fault, Macky only agreed to this interview so that women's football could be highlighted. The camera-shy coach initially declined to have his photo published for this article, stating that "the limelight should be (on) the players, and their achievements."

Macky doesn't have a weekend team, which cuts his own game time to pretty much zero. Training goes on during the week, till match day comes on the weekend.

Only a real coach would have no qualms about giving up this most sacred of male addictions: football with your mates. And perhaps, only a real coach would know the kind of satisfaction that would replace the exhilaration being out there on the field.

"I guess I've never really looked back since I moved into coaching. I love it and I'm very professional about it and I believe that anyone who is thinking about going into a coaching career should take it just as seriously as any other job," Macky reckons.

The pay isn't quite the same as pro men's football and Macky admits it's a bit of a struggle sometimes. "But at the moment, it's comfortable. Coaches don't come onto the scene straight away and make money. It all takes time. You can't be a top-flight boss overnight – it takes a lot of experience and grey hairs! Look at Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho!" jokes Macky.

A Liverpool supporter since the age of five, a tireless left back in his days as a young player and a lifelong fan of Real Madrid's number one Brazilian in that position, Roberto Carlos ("He's a bit of a flat foot sometimes and can be unreliable, but I like the way he attacks"), this gaffer is as big a fan of footie as the next guy.

"You know, it wouldn't be much fun to be coach at Real Madrid right now, handling superstars. Good luck to whoever has that job," he jokes.

Macky adds that getting the nod someday as head coach for a national World Cup-qualifying team would be a dream, especially if it was for the women's.

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