We recently caught up with Sports Scholar and University of Kent student Anna Marfuad about her experiences of sports growing up, and what encouraged her to study at Kent and become a football scholar.
Could you tell us where you grew up and how you first got involved in sport and then Football?
Growing up, I lived throughout Southeast Asia before moving to England for University. My parents, who are big fans of football, introduced me to the sport at a young age and I began playing for the boys’ team in my primary school in Brunei as there were not many girls who played the sport. However, as I got older, and moved countries, I continued to play for my school teams while also training with various academies that offered girls’ football, such as Cruzeiro (Phuket), ProDirect (Indonesia), and JSSL (Singapore). These academies developed my technical abilities that I was able to transfer to my school teams and contribute to games in international school competitions like the Southeast Asian Student Activities Conference (SEASAC) and Phuket Football Soccer 7’s.
How accessible were different sports in Asia and any other key sports you were involved in at school?
There are countless sports available throughout Asia. I was fortunate to attend British International schools for my primary and secondary education, so I was exposed to popular sports from all over the world! For example, I was heavily involved in swimming, basketball, touch rugby, and football, but I have only recently chosen to focus on football as it is one of my genuine passions and a popular sport here in the UK, exposing me to more opportunities.
In an article I read recently, Talk Sport highlighted that women’s football could possibly be the fastest-growing sport in the UK. Since then, the Lionesses won the European championship. From your experiences what is the status of women’s football in Asia and around the world?
Firstly, I am extremely proud to be a part of a women’s sport that is finally receiving the recognition it deserves. Women’s Football is also feeling this immense support throughout Asia, and the game has begun to grow massively. Countries, companies, and schools are beginning to provide academies, clubs, and programmes for young girls where they can develop to all stages and potentially represent a professional team or their country. I think it’s amazing that girls of this generation can have their talents recognised and professionally supported through various pathways, and I’m grateful the UK, Asia, and the rest of the world are beginning to encourage and support girls, such as me, who love and appreciate the sport and want to develop.
You’re studying Wildlife conservation here at Kent. What was your background/interest in this area and why did you choose to Study at Kent?
When I was younger, my family would take me on holiday to national zoos and wildlife parks, which fuelled my passion for animals and the environment. Also, I believe I have a natural affinity to help others, which is why I chose wildlife conservation as it is a course where I am able to combine my passions and interests through academics.
The University of Kent was rated one of the best schools in the UK for this course, therefore it was my goal to study here and receive the best educational experience. It did help that the campus was amazing, the student body was diverse, and the university offered a great scholarship programme and various opportunities for women’s football, hence it was my number one choice.
What do you like most about the Canterbury campus?
I appreciate how open and green the campus is at UKC, especially given the course I am pursuing. The proximity to nature and the dispersion of academic facilities makes me feel more like a member of a community than a student at a school, which I find comforting.
What other societies or clubs are you involved in on campus?
When I’m not playing for the Women’s Football team, I’m involved with the Women’s Basketball society, where I train and play with the development squad. Basketball was a big part of my life while I lived in Asia, and I still play it for fun when I can and find that it is a great way to help with my fitness for football.
Have you explored much of the UK or Europe since arriving here?
I used to visit the UK and Europe during summer holidays when I was young, so I have seen many places such as London, Manchester, Kent, France, Greece and so on! However, since studying here at UKC I have been able to emerge myself in the culture of canterbury and explore smaller seaside towns like Whitstable or other cities in England whenever the UKC women’s football team travel for away matches.
What are your long-term plans post-university, does it involve a Ph.D. or a specific position of employment you have in mind?
I am yet to decide if I am doing a Ph.D. or Masters after my undergraduate course. However, I am taking on a placement year for my 3rd year, where I hope to be working in a wildlife rescue centre or nature reserve. After university, I hope to continue pursuing a career like this one where I can work with others to help endangered species or habitats.
This is your second year on the scholarship scheme, last year you joined via the Michaelmas scholarship trials. Could you talk us through that process and your experience of that journey?
Personally, I thought the Michaelmas scholarship trials were a great experience since they gave me the opportunity to perform in front of the University sporting department over time and show them my abilities in various situations in different matches. Of course, the journey was nerve-racking because I felt the need to perform at my very best in every match. However, I realised that not every player is perfect, and I had to demonstrate how I was able to manage my mistakes, embrace them, and learn from them, and that is what determined what kind of player I was at the end of the day.
Now you are established on the scheme what is your experience overall and would you like to see any changes to the scheme next year?
Personally, I find the Sport Scholarship Scheme to be incredibly useful regarding developing my physicality for on the field. Prior to university, I had never taken on weight training, therefore, being able to experience a programme designed for my sport was an interesting and fantastic opportunity for benefitting my health and development as a football player. The attitudes and feedback from coaches were also extremely useful along with the records of session layouts and targets in the personal training diaries. In my opinion, I think gym sessions should include speed or agility training as a compulsory session depending on the athlete and their position in the sport.
The women’s football team at Kent had a successful season last year. Could you summarise the season for anybody who isn’t aware?
I was fortunate to be selected on the starting line-up for the Kent Women’s First team 2021-22 and was able to be a part of our undefeated season! Across, the year we dominated the Women’s South-eastern Tier 2 – 2A 2021-2022 with a scoring average of 5 goals per game and conceding only 1 goal throughout the whole year. It was a brilliant season for all the players, and I was honoured to be a part of such a talented team.
We had up to five women’s football scholars on the team last year, so no surprise it was such a strong squad. How is the team looking for this year and what do you think your personal contribution will be?
It was a privilege to be a part of the scholar scheme with such amazing players last year! Unfortunately, many of our senior players have recently graduated so we have had to rebuild our team for this year. Luckily, many talented young players have tried out for us, and we are excited to see how they contribute this year to the squad. Personally, I hope to contribute my skills and strategic knowledge to the development of strong attacking plays, as well as to help us communicate effectively on the field so that we can be organised in our positioning and successful in scoring.
Finally, what advice do you have for a new international student starting this term?
I would advise any international students to stay their authentic selves and try to feel as though they are at home through various opportunities at the university. Moving away from family and to a new country is always difficult, so getting involved in societies, sports teams, or events is a great way to meet people with similar backgrounds and continue activities you were doing back home, such as football for me, which can help you feel comfortable on campus and at ease with your university life.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Anna and share your story. Good luck to you and the rest of the team for what promises to be an interesting season.