In an industry where age and gender are often stacked against a woman's favour, national footballer Steffi Sarge Kaur proves that she's still got a few tricks up her sleeve to earn a spot on the playing field.
Top: Max Mara. Cap: Armani Exchange.
As a woman who started playing a conventionally male-dominated sport nearly two decades ago, Steffi Sarge Kaur has heard it all. "Are you sure girls can play football?" "Girls should stay in the kitchen." "Don't girls just grow up playing with dolls?" But none of that has ever bothered the skipper of the national women's football team.

From the moment she steps into the studio bright and early for our cover shoot, the seasoned athlete exudes an unshakable confidence that instantly tells you she's a leader who can't be bothered by naysayers. After greeting me and the rest of the production team with a self-assured smile, she wastes no time settling into the makeup chair—poised and ready to tell me all about her passion.
Born in Taiping to parents who are both sportspeople, the Chinese-Punjabi-Siamese recalls her first time kicking a football while following her father to the field at the age of eight. "It felt really good, so after that, I just kept playing," she reminisces fondly. "Every evening, I would join the boys on the field instead of playing with dolls or masak-masak at home. I think I was the only girl playing football with the boys in the whole of Taiping during my time."

Football wasn't her only athletic pastime. She also played competitively in a number of sports during and after her school days, including badminton, handball, hockey, netball, and even rugby. Although the aggressive nature of some of these sports may raise reasonable concern—especially for a young girl going up against boys her age—Steffi shares that her parents have stood behind her all the way.
Blazer: Max Mara. Pants: Longchamp. Shirt: Stylist's own.
"I'm quite lucky to have very supportive parents. To this day, they still follow me to my tournaments—the most recent one being the SEA Games in Cambodia," she says, beaming with gratitude. In fact, it was her father who encouraged her to go for football tryouts in 2006, which led to her representing Perak in the state championships. From there, she was selected to join the junior national team and played her first international match in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-19 Women's Championship that same year.

Since then, Steffi has been unstoppable. She went on to represent the country in four SEA Games—despite a hiatus in between when she switched to professional futsal—and got called up to be the captain of the national women's football team, Malayan Tigress, in 2021.
"To be honest, I wanted to work as an air stewardess," Steffi replies when I ask if she had grown up picturing a sports career for herself. "But I knew that if I pursued it, I wouldn't be able to play football because there's just no time for it, so I decided to stick to football. Now, it has been part of my life for the past 17 years." What does she consider her best achievement so far? "Scoring two international goals through free kicks!" she gushes—a feat that has rightfully earned her the nickname "Queen of Free Kicks".

With that said, her football journey has not been without challenges. "Compared to the big teams, we lack experience and exposure. The other national teams play a lot of tournaments and they have a first team, second team, and so on. But we only have one senior squad in Malaysia, so we definitely need more," she explains.

"I believe we have potential and a lot of talented young [female] players, but we just need proper development and exposure like the men's team," she continues, adding that government support is needed to establish professional women's leagues in Malaysia.
For context, there are four tiers for professional men's football in the country: Malaysia Super League (M1), Malaysia Premier League (M2), Malaysia M3 League, and Malaysia M4 League. On the other hand, the women's football unit just welcomed a new coach last December, who is currently tasked with developing a comprehensive player pipeline at the grassroots level.

As the captain of the team, Steffi feels a great sense of responsibility to help nurture and support her younger teammates too. "There's a lot of pressure, because as a senior, people look up to you," she confesses. "I want to be the best example to my team because they will become the next leaders who will replace me one day, so they need to have that discipline and commitment. That's why I train hard and keep myself fit."
Jacket: Longchamp. Vest and pants: Max Mara. Shoes: Adidas.
While football will always be her first love, Steffi has recently given another professional sport a shot—footgolf. As one might guess from the name, footgolf is a portmanteau of football and golf, though the rules are more closely related to the latter. The game involves kicking a size five football into the hole in as few shots as possible.

It's hard to miss the excitement in her voice as the well-rounded athlete tells me with glistening eyes: "With footgolf, you don't really feel like you're competing with others. It's like you're playing against yourself and you just want to improve your score." For someone who's admittedly competitive by nature, she not only welcomes the challenge, but thrives on it. The proof: finishing in the top 12 in the world out of 120 participants in her first World Cup outing in Orlando.
Seeing that Malaysia is the first in Southeast Asia to actively participate in footgolf, she believes there is great potential for the country to excel in the sport. "It will grow, definitely," she comments, "but we need support from the government and the sports ministry to show that this is a sport that anyone can play."

On that note, she offers a word of advice to aspiring athletes in any field: "If anyone wants to try a sport, just go for it. Take it from me—if I hadn't tried kicking the ball back then, I wouldn't have fallen in love with football and be where I am today. I'm sure that all of us have something that we like but we wouldn't know it until we try it," she asserts.
Shirt: Max Mara. Shorts: Longchamp. Blazer, socks and shoes: Armani Exchange.
Contrary to evidence that athletic performance declines after hitting the age of 30, Steffi remains hopeful about her future in sports as she looks forward to her 35th birthday this year. "For me, age is just a number. 35 is the new 25!" she quips light-heartedly. "As long as I'm disciplined, stay fit and have the capacity to contribute to my team, I'm game."
Simply put, retirement isn't on the cards just yet. "In the next five, 10 years, I see myself trying to give back to the community by coaching a women's football team, or maybe becoming the national head coach someday," she contemplates on her goals ahead. "As for footgolf, I still will be playing for the next few World Cups as my target is to be in the top three or, even better, the world champion."

One thing is for certain, Steffi is on the ball and she's not leaving the pitch anytime soon.
Dress: Longchamp.
Editor-in-chief / Sarah Hani Jamil
Text & styling / NATALIE KHOO
CREATIVE DIRECTION & layout design / Sarah Tai
Videography / Dennis Kho
Makeup / CHU FAN