Taylor FU Chiu Man is a midfielder for the club team Kitchee and the Hong Kong Women’s National Football team. Having graduated from the Jockey Club Ti-I College, a school that aims to develop students’ potential in visual arts and sports, aside from academic performance, Taylor will be transferring to Eckerd College in Florida, USA on a sports scholarship in August 2018. Whilst there she’ll be representing her school to compete in the NCAA Division II.

Taylor didn’t grow up playing football as a child; in fact, she didn’t discover the sport until she attended Ti-I College as a secondary student. Her previous two sports were basketball and triathlon: basketball was her sports major at school and triathlon was the sport her father had encouraged her to participate in after discovering her potential as a runner and swimmer.

We spoke with Taylor about playing football in Hong Kong, about going to the US on a sport scholarship and about her plans for the future.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for length.)

Photo credits :
Matthew Ma
Takumi Photography
Kitchee

How did you get into football?

Before attending Ti-I College, I had barely kicked a ball. Basketball and triathlon were my major sports. Then one day at Ti-I College, I was waiting by the fields for my friends to finish their practice so we could go and study together, and my friends and the coach asked me to join them. I really didn’t start football until I was in Form 2.

Prior to this, since I was in Primary 5, I competed in triathlons. As a child I would always place in short distance races in the 400m, then my father encouraged me to join a swim club, which also had a triathlon team. Then I picked up cycling and it went from there.

How easy or difficult was the transition from triathlon to football?

It was quite difficult! I hardly knew anything about football! The first time I played football, I didn’t even know how to pass a ball. I slowly learned the sport.

I guess I preferred football because I realised after a while that my mental game wasn’t strong enough for an individual sport like triathlon. In a triathlon, I would be competing for time and every time I competed, my diaphragm would ache from stress. I was fine in practices: my run and swim times were good and it was only in competition that I would feel extreme pressure and stress. When I play football because it is a team sport and there are other people on the team besides myself, I don’t feel as stressed.

It also helped that many of my friends were on the team. I stayed in dorms at the time and after study time, when we had free time for other activities, sometimes my guy friends would ask me to join them in football. I was often one of very few girls who played with them. So I went and then somehow ended up on the football team.

Having played basketball (which is also a team sport), what did you enjoy about football that kept you playing?

I guess in part it was because I hadn’t played it before I started at Ti-I College. I found it quite interesting that unlike many other sports that require using hands, in football we had to use our feet and legs. I guess also that I enjoyed the challenge of learning a new sport.

When I first started playing football in Form 2, I wasn’t very good at it. But then during the summer vacations, when I participated in some of these youth schemes for football and kept practicing, I found my football skills improving rapidly, especially my passing. That was when I became cognisant that I had potential in football and could develop into a pretty good player.

I guess it helped that I was a triathlete before so I have stamina and endurance.

What do you think playing football has taught you?

I’m quite happy and proud that I stayed with football. I’m able to go to school in the USA because of this sport. So I’ve realised that playing football has helped me in many ways: not just academically but in my personal life too. Things like time management, focus and self-regulation are important skills I’ve learned. Another important thing is that sports have taught me to try hard and to do what I want to the best of my ability.

Some people have asked if I regret playing football and stopped triathlon. I cannot say that I don’t regret it, but at the same time, I think that maybe triathlon wouldn’t have been able to give me as much as football as.

Also, contrary to what people think, I didn’t attend Ti-I College because I was a student who received bad grades in order to focused on sports. Actually my grades were acceptable. In fact, attending Ti-I College helped me develop a stronger self-understanding; especially living in dorms where all of us studied and lived together has been a positive influence on me too.

How does your family feel about you playing football?

At first my family were not too enthusiastic. Especially my dad, since he encouraged me to participate in triathlons … and my mother, well, she was a bit frustrated that I spent more time at practices than I did with my family. Slowly though they have accepted me playing football, in particular as I’ve started to achieve certain milestones.

I suppose my parents have always trusted me to know what I want. When I was in primary 3 and 4 I didn’t study much, but in primary 5 and 6 I did because I knew I had to take exams to progress to a good secondary school. They saw I could focus and study hard, and luckily I was accepted to Ti-I College, which is considered a Band 1 school. And my academic grades at Ti-I College are not bad so my parents don’t complain much about me playing football.

How did you join the Hong Kong Women’s National Football team?

I was quite lucky that when I first started playing football, AFC had created the U16 division and I was able to join. So the first time I ever travelled to an overseas tournament with the U16 Women’s National Football team, we went to Guam. I still remember that clearly as it was my first time competing overseas and left a deep impression on me.

Last year I rose from the U19 team to Senior team. Nowadays there are U19, U16, U14 and maybe even younger age groups. I’m so jealous because I wish when I started my football career these divisions were available to me too.

I’ve since played U16 to U19 and now the senior team. In total I’ve played about 5 years.

What is the HKFA Women’s Football League like?

I play on the club team Kitchee and have been with them for two seasons. We are the current league champions.

There are 13 teams in the League (last year there was 12). We play against each other once per season during the league season, which goes from October to March. After League we have the FA Cup, which has a group stage and elimination stage. FA Cup goes from March till June.

None of the women who play on any of the teams are professional players – we are all students or work. This is different to the men’s league, the Hong Kong Premier League, where the men are professional players and draw a salary and also have access to good facilities.

What is the state of football for women and girls in Hong Kong at the moment?

I see more resources being put to growing the women’s game. So for example HKSSF (Hong Kong School Sports Federation) organises the girls football competition and I see more and more schools are organising a girls’ football team. Maybe it’s partly been the influence of some of us on the National Team going to back to our schools, advocating the game and helping to build a team.

HKFA (Hong Kong Football Association) also encourage some of us on the Senior National team to go on school visits (usually to schools where there isn’t already a girl’s football team) to speak with students and teachers to promote football. I hope this helps to influence some girls to at least try football as a sport.

As for studying in the US – what are you looking forward to and what are your plans?

I plan to find a club team to play for while I’m studying. When I graduate from college I’ll be about 22 or 23 so I definitely want to try play professionally, whether it’s in the US or elsewhere in the world. I can’t say that playing professionally is a dream, but it is a goal; I have to try it. I know that I cannot wait around for the opportunity and I must be proactive to achieve this goal, especially while I am still quite young.

I’m quite lucky that my parents are quite relaxed in this regard and do not say I must have a “stable” job. I have told them I want to play professionally. Initially they were hesitant because they didn’t feel I could play professionally my whole life, but I have also communicated that I must try. And if I fail then I can come back to HK and find a job, but at least I can do that knowing I have tried. I’m not willing to give up on my aspiration to play professionally; even if I am not initially successful I am willing to work whilst trying.