Thu, Mar 07, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Bend it like the Breakers

The Taipei Breakers are an all-girls soccer squad making their mark in a male-dominated field

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

Marlee Mann, white jersey, last Sunday faces off against the FC Vikings backline.

Photo: Davina Tham, Taipei Times

Rain or shine, the girls of the Taipei Breakers soccer club turn up for their weekly training session at Shipai Junior High School (石牌國民中學) in Beitou District (北投). It’s a miserably cold and wet Sunday morning, and the pitch may be soaked, but rain does not dampen their enthusiasm.

Waiting restlessly for training to start, the girls titter and commiserate about schoolwork in excitable voices. Aged 11 to 13, on the cusp of awkward adolescence but honed by a sport that trains stamina and agility, they move with ease in baggy jerseys and long ponytails. One of the girls wears an enviable pair of pale pink soccer boots.

The Breakers are the only privately run, all-female youth soccer club in the city, with a roster of 12 girls drawn primarily from the Taipei American School (TAS). They are known for being a team that travels, and they travel well.

In April last year, in their first competition as a team after only three months of training together, they placed second in the under-12 girls’ cup at the Junior Soccer School and League tournament in Singapore. In January, they rose to become champions at the Bangkok International Girls Tournament.

CHILDHOOD AMBITIONS

When asked why they picked up soccer, the instinctive response from the girls is that “it’s fun.”

“And then you want to take it more serious,” adds Marlee Mann, 12.

The desire for structured training and opportunities to compete is what brings many of the girls to the Breakers, who compete in the local boys’ club Victory League, run by the Master Football Academy (MFA). There are no girls’ leagues and only ad-hoc girls’ tournaments in Taiwan, so the Breakers’ record of competing in overseas girls’ tournaments is a pull factor for serious players.

The Breakers are shaped by manager Elle Bowe and coach Daniel Calvert.

As team manager, Bowe aims for equal parts Scottish footballer Alex Ferguson and soccer mom — her daughter, Aleesa, plays for the Breakers. She recruits players, organizes the squad for competitions and networks with other clubs and leagues or tournament organizers to create competition opportunities for the girls.

But she also buys chocolate to keep the girls’ energy up after training and conducts hotel room briefings reminding the parents to behave during games at overseas tournaments. Last year, she organized a Mother’s Day gathering for the whole team and their parents. It was the first time most of the girls were seeing their teammates in dresses, she laughs, and they almost couldn’t recognize each other.

Arriving in Taipei five years ago, Bowe first jumped at the chance to manage The Heartbreakers, the parent-run girls’ soccer team of TAS. She sees her work, done without remuneration, as a way of ensuring that young female soccer enthusiasts have a platform to explore their passion for and advance in the sport.

“I didn’t have the chance, but my daughter, especially, and her friends have a chance to actually do what they love,” Bowe says.

Growing up in Singapore, Bowe and her two sisters accompanied her father to the local soccer league matches he watched every weekend. The early start gave her a lifelong love of the game. She played only casually, but the devotion was real — at age 16, she once skipped school to follow Manchester United around on their visit to her country (and got into trouble when her parents spotted her in the news coverage).

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