Football is a matter of national pride as well as controversy in Egypt. Cairo’s normally congested streets tend to clear whenever the national team is playing an important match. While Egypt has a women’s football team, it hasn’t garnered national interest. Which is why the talented Sarah Essam looked beyond Egypt’s borders to pursue her passion for football, and today, she has a promising career at the UK club, Stoke City. eniGma’s Nayera Yasser talked with Essam to learn more about her exceptional journey and her plans for her football future.
With an undeniable passion for football and evident talent, Sarah Essam grew up mesmerised by one of the world’s most popular sports. Despite social norms and gender-driven stereotypes, she never gave up on her determination to turn her favourite hobby to a serious career. “In Egypt, football as a career is not an acceptable choice for women; everyone including my mother kept telling me that this enthusiasm would lead me nowhere,” recounts Essam. But, with steadfast resoluteness and a lot of practice, Essam proved her detractors wrong. The talented football player signed with Wadi Degla Club in 2015, before joining the under 17 national team and finally getting onto the Egyptian women’s national football team. Despite her success, however, Essam continued to find the women’s football community in Egypt challenging, often feeling unappreciated by the Egyptian Football Association.
When Essam moved to the UK in 2017 to study engineering, she never intended to leave her passion for football behind. Once in the UK, with a clear plan in mind, Essam followed a strict set of steps to reach her grand goal of joining a premier league football team. “I took it as a challenge. I struggled a lot, but never gave up on my dream. I always tell myself that I will never let all of my efforts go to waste. I will keep working on myself no matter what,” she explains.
After many long mornings on the field devoted to trials and constant practice, Essam received offers from Derby County Club and Sunderland Juniors. But it was the phone call from the prestigious Stoke City Club that was to change the course of her life. It led to numerous train rides to practice with the club to demonstrate her skills on the field. Her efforts paid off and she joined the team at Stoke City, be
coming the first professional Egyptian female player in the UK’s premier league.
While English leagues are notorious for being super competitive, Essam was not nervous during her first game with Stoke City. “I knew that I had a responsibility towards thousands of young girls who aspire to follow unconventional careers. It was my job to make them believe that anything is possible. I was once their age and needed a local role model to look up to,” she recalls.
Today, despite lingering doubters, Essam’s passion for the game remains undiminished. “People still perceive football as a male-dominated sport. However, once I touch the ball and showcase my best moves, people start to appreciate my talent,” she says with a smile.
Recently, Essam won the Arab Woman of the Year Award for achievements in sports. Organised by London Arabia Organisation and held in London, the event brought together a number of inspiring Arab female figures who set a positive example for the younger generation. “This award means so much to me. Appreciation is always rewarding, especially when it comes from such a reputable entity. And of course, representing my country is always a privilege,” Essam proudly states.
As for her future plans, Essam is currently focused on balancing her academic deadlines with her schedule as a professional football player. She also has her eyes on joining the national team in the Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup.