Dubai: Like most Dubai girls her age, ten-year old Summer Stanton loves tying her hair into a neat princess-like ponytail and cherishes an occasional egg McMuffin for a Friday breakfast.
Yet she is no ordinary girl. A house and games captain at her school, the year six Dubai British School student who turns 11 next month is busy as a bee most days of the week, dividing her time between swimming, gymnastics, dodge ball and net ball. When it comes to football though, she is in a league of her own. Come Saturday, and not for the first time in her young life, she will be ready to break new ground, if not stereotypes, once again when a brand new season of the Jebel Ali Youth League — the country’s premier youth football competition that started in 2007 — kicks off.
Only girl in league
However, if Adam Burrows, one of the organisers of the league, is to be believed, the Dubai-born and raised Summer could be the only girl playing in this year’s tournament. “The league is open to both boys and girls like always. More than 600 young footballers across six age groups will be turning out for over 55 academy teams from the UAE but Summer is the only girl registered so far. It speaks volumes of her prowess as a junior footballer,” says Burrows, who is the academy manager of ‘It’s Just Football’ that runs the youth league.
In the league, Summer will be representing former English premier league footballer Dale Gordon’s newly formed team DG Pro FC and Gordon says he is aware he is dealing with a special talent. “She is not just a player of my U-12 team but the captain and she deserves every bit of that armband,” says the UEFA B licenced coach who has been developing grassroots football in the UAE for over five years. “It’s all down to her passion and dedication for the game and she is technically so sound that she can play with and against the boys without a care or any worry,” says the man who made 206 appearances for Norwich City over seven seasons in the eighties before also playing for Rangers, West Ham United and AFC Bournemouth.
Lanky, freckled and the only girl in the Gordon’s select squad, it’s easy to spot Summer in a crowded training ground, but her father Gary insists it’s easier to understand why her coach heaps so much praise on her. “She completes a 60-metre dash in a little over 11 seconds, returns a dramatic bleep test result every time and competes for the ball as hard as any boy. Her brother Kyle is just a year younger and also plays football, but I know the difference between the two siblings,” says Stanton senior, who moved to Dubai from the UK in 2003 as a realty investor.
A diehard fan of Liverpool FC and club legend Steven Gerrard, Summer dreams of going to the US on a football scholarship and playing for her native England in a World Cup one day. Only problem, she thinks, is that she will have to compete with the women at that level. As of now however she is happy fighting for the ball on the pitch with a boy and what’s her favourite way of pepping a teammate up when she finds one down? “By saying don’t cry like a girl,” laughs the softly-spoken pre-teen who turns 11 next month.