Danelle Tan: “I’m very glad that I can trailblaze a path for future generations of younger Singaporean girls.”
In her debut Deloitte Women’s Premier League season, Singapore’s Danelle Tan constantly made impact after impact despite only playing in a couple of games while on her summer break.
With every goal, photographers on the sidelines smirked and looked at one another after knowing they were witnessing a star being born, and they were right. After all,
Upon returning to the UK to continue her studies and training at Mill Hill High School, Tan announced her commitment to William and Mary Tribe Women’s Soccer. The team represents the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. In what she describes as a gratifying moment for her, this makes the 18-year-old the first Singaporean footballer to sign for an NCAA Division 1 team and in 2024 she will head off to chase the American dream.
Though women’s football in Singapore has a long road ahead, it is certainly growing. Tan’s milestone is felt throughout the community and with it, she wants to influence the coming generations of Singaporean girls.
The College of William and Mary ranks 41 in Forbes 2022 rankings and its soccer team boasts Jill Ellis as one of its notable alumni. Ellis was the United States Women’s National Team coach from 2014-2019, leading the team to two world cup titles and countless of records, although of course you already knew that.
Tan made her visit to the college on her birthday and the team were quick to make her feel at home. “The team had a surprise for me in the locker room where they gave me a birthday cake and everyone sang happy birthday. It was these types of moments that I could really see myself in this team and environment,” she shares.
The achievement did not come without sacrifice. Tan left Singapore at a young age to train and study at a high school just outside of London where a normal day for her begins at 7 am. She routinely calls her parents every morning, admitting that being away from them has been one of her biggest struggles.
Back home, Tan’s father used to accompany his daughter to almost every game and training. “He was always a constant,” she says. “On good days or terrible days, he was always there for me to talk to and someone I knew I could rely on for objective feedback.”
The seven-hour time difference turns to eight every winter when the days get shorter and the cold begins to pierce your skin. “When I’m done with training at night, everyone in Singapore is usually asleep. There were low days when training wasn’t the best and without anyone to talk to, it became harder,” Tan says solemnly.
What’s for sure though is that in the absence of her family, Tan’s friends have stepped in to help. Due to the training, she doesn’t always make it on time for dinner, where one particular dish catches her eye and soothes her Singaporean taste buds. “I usually ask my friends to pack dinner for me to microwave and eat later. My school makes surprisingly good fried rice and I get really excited whenever I see fried rice as an option!”
On Tuesdays, the striker trains with the U18 boys team after a two-hour strength and conditioning session with her coach, Mr Nicholls. It’s no secret that football in England is of much higher intensity, and it has been felt by the Singaporean who has had to be more aggressive and quicker with her wits. “Being in a competitive training environment, day in and day out, forces me to be kept on my toes and always stay sharp, playing and training at my best,” she shares. Tan even became the first woman to play for the school team’s first XI.
The forward’s style of play is heavily influenced by Arsenal striker, Vivianne Miedema. “She’s a lethal striker and just a pure goal scorer. I try to watch her movement and incorporate it into my game whenever possible,” she says.
Anyone who has seen both Miedema and Tan on the pitch would be able to see the similarities, right down to the hairband worn on the wrist. Whether that was deliberate by Tan is up in the air but what’s certain is that the dribbling and cut-ins do emulate the Dutch number nine.
In a goal she scored against Still Aerion FC in July, Tan drove into the box before turning onto her right foot, dropping the defenders in front of her. The only thing that set that apart from a typical Miedema goal was that Tan celebrated, unlike the 26-year-old Ballon d’Or nominee who is notorious for her muted celebrations.
Even after a long day of training and school, living alone means having to do laundry at night. Tan’s self-discipline has no doubt contributed to her success on the pitch. “I’ve made it a habit to read for at least 20 minutes before I sleep and usually get to bed by 1030pm,” she says before talking about her current book of choice: “I’m currently reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and although slightly heavy and slow moving, it’s an incredibly well-written book!”
Singaporeans will have to wait over a year to see one of their own play in college soccer’s highest division but football fans at home will do good to keep an eye on the rising star, who has been and will be flying the red and white flag high.