Invariably dressed in sports gear, with a whistle in her mouth and a group of footballers under her control, Selma Al Majidi is very much one of a kind, the first Arab and Sudanese woman to take charge of a men’s football team.
Al Majidi has dreamed of being a coach virtually all her life, having first made her first foray on to a football pitch to watch her little brother train at the age of 11. Paying close attention to the sessions, she made a mental note of the advice the coach gave her younger sibling.
Recalling those days, she told FIFA.com: “I noted down everything the coach said to my brother and his team-mates. I learned his tactical instructions by heart and even the way in which he set the cones out.
“In the evening, I’d try out all his instructions with my brother at home, which became a training room. I’d use kitchen utensils as cones and I’d watch football matches on TV with my family. And that’s how I started to understand everything in a sport that in my country is the sole preserve of men.”
A place in footballing history
Al Majidi’s dream came true when she was invited to coach the U-13 to U-16 teams at Omdurman club Al Hilal, an invitation she accepted without a moment’s thought, given the lack of women’s teams in Sudan.
Explaining what the job involved, she said: “It’s very difficult to coach teenagers, and I had to be strong to face up to them. Teenagers don’t usually listen to adults and sometimes they’d even laugh at what I had to say to them. I learned the importance of being patient, which has helped me a lot in my career in senior football.”
Having since taken training courses and earning coaching certificates with the Sudanese Football Association and the African Football Confederation, Al Majidi now holds the Sudanese and African “C” badge and is in the process of obtaining the African “B” badge.
Thanks to her qualifications and fine record with Al Hilal, several Sudanese clubs began knocking on her door, and after taking up positions with some of them, the 25-year-old eventually found herself at third-division Al Nasr of Omdurman.
Taking up the story, she said: “To start with, some of the players didn’t want to work with me just because I was a woman. It was strange for them and everyone was uncertain about the situation. With time, though, they’ve come to respect me and they’ve praised me for my work. It was a big challenge and I faced it in the best possible way by saving the team from relegation.”
Al Majidi has had to fight to make her way in the game and overcome resistance in the shape of people who believed that there is no place for women in football. Her iron will and determination have helped her overcome those barriers, however.
The holder of a degree in Accountancy and Management Studies from Al Nasr Technical College, Al Majidi expanded on her battle to gain recognition: “Society didn’t look favourably on what I was doing because the belief was that only men should coach men’s teams. We live in an eastern society and the people of Sudan have habits and customs that put a block on women in all walks of life, football among them.”
Al Majidi’s family encouraged her to persevere with her work, however, and to fulfil her childhood dream: “The man in the street here was more conservative than my parents, who encouraged me to go ahead and coach men. My family is my biggest support, especially my mother and my little brother, who I want to thank a lot.”
The pioneering coach added: “I am happy to be a sporting role model in Sudan. Wherever I go my compatriots say hello to me and congratulate me. I hope I can continue on this path and take over at a first division club or even reach international level by coaching the national team.”
Figuring on the BBC’s list of the 100 most inspirational women of 2015, Al Majidi is already looking ahead to next year, while continuing to harbour hopes of seeing a Sudan national women’s team come into being one day, with her at the helm.