Neighbourhood taunts that girls were not cut out for a manly game like football only served to ignite Loeng Sophorn’s passion for the game when she was barely in her teens. Taking cue from her younger brother’s street football experience, she vigorously pursued a career in the game.
Now the 24-year-old Prey Veng born Loeng Sophorn, now based in Siem Reap and known as Srey Mom among friends, is an official C-licenced coach. Along with batchmate Leng Chanthay, they are currently the only two women in the Kingdom to carry the distinction.
“I was really offended when people dissuaded me from taking up football,” said Loeng Sophorn. “I loved the game a lot, and I used to see my brother play with his friends near our home. I kept asking ‘why not me?’
“I learnt the game quickly and played for a while, but my driving ambition had always been to teach girls and make them play better than we were. That drove me towards coaching.”
Moderate grades in her schooling blended well with her intense interest in football, and a job as a physical education teacher in Siem Reap’s Svay Thom secondary school has now given her a safe shelter to pursue her footballing desires.
“I coach about a dozen girls. My aim is to climb higher and seek the next grade in coaching,” said Loeng Sophorn, who was among the 33 coaches attending a crash course conducted by FIFA grassroots instructor Fritz Schmid during the recent Festival of Football in Phnom Penh.
At 24, she could still be kicking the ball around the pitch, but her philosophy is refreshingly different. “If I play, I am playing for myself and my team but if I am coaching I am doing it for the entire community. My ambition is to bring out the best in our girls and help them form a good women’s team in the country.”
Loeng Sophorn’s triumph over adversity echoes that of friend Leng Chanthy, whose rise from a menial job as a cleaner to be a well regarded coach showed that anything is possible with determination.
Two women from different backgrounds converging in a common purpose have given Cambodian football fans good reason to smile, with the hope that more will follow in the footsteps of these pioneers.