The Onyx gemstone is said to represent strength, wisdom and authenticity. Those are precisely the qualities Onyx FC aims to stand for as the UAE’s first fully female-owned football club.
Women’s football in the UAE has not always had a large following, but in the past 20 years the sport has become increasingly popular in the country.
That growing interest led to the creation of the women’s national team in 2010, who made their debut in the West Asian Football Championship the same year. Subsequently, in 2012, the UAE introduced its first women’s football league – for under-13 and under-16 players – where teams were given a quota of having 15 Emiratis out of 20 total players in each squad.
But while there were leagues, teams and sub-categories for women’s football, there was still room for a fully female-owned and led club. Onyx FC claimed that badge of honour when it was founded in 2022.
It was started by four coaching mentors – Lauren McMurchie, Georgia Adderley, Lisa Hayhoe and Hind Al Zarouni – all of whom are Uefa-licensed coaches.
Onyx offers training for competitive female players, and the club takes part in an 11-a-side and a seven-a-side league run by the Expat Football Association, the fastest growing football league in Dubai which boasts more than 4,000 active players.
They also run social football programs open to women of all abilities which currently counts around 200 members. For younger players, Onyx offers a girls academy for children aged four to 18.
While three of the four founding coaches work for the club on a part-time basis, McMurchie runs Onyx FC full-time. With a master’s degree in sports coaching and experience of representing the Scotland national team at youth level, McMurchie brings years of expertise to the UAE football scene.
“We came together as four co-founders, myself alongside Georgia, Lisa, and Hind, and we embarked on a journey to provide a women’s only club to empower women and girls to be the best that they can be," McMurchie said. "Together, we hope to create a welcoming environment and a pathway that provides longevity for female football players in the UAE and beyond.”
Growing up, McMurchie never thought she would be an entrepreneur, but said she has always been independent, resilient and hard-working.
“I have an ambitious side to my personality which I’m sure was emboldened throughout my playing career at Glasgow City and at youth level with the Scotland national team," she added.
"I believe the similarities between competitive sport and entrepreneurship are undeniable: adaptability, competitiveness, resilience and hard work are some that come to mind. My characteristics are definitely shared and balanced well with the expertise of my fellow co-founders which helps us empower the women of the UAE to realise their own ambitions.”
While Onyx FC's modest origins are important, McMurchie is determined to increase the club’s numbers, and therefore make a lasting impact on the growth and development of women’s football in the UAE.
“There has been a lot of growth in the UAE, especially within the last two years,” she said. “We have seen a huge increase in interest since the introduction of the UAE FA’s 11-a-side women’s league. Providing this league for women to compete shows their support for the long-term growth of the sport.”
Her co-founder, Al Zarouni, is an Emirati national who feels passionately about incorporating women’s football into the country’s future.
“My ultimate vision would be for Onyx FC to be the leading female football club in the UAE, in particular providing exceptional coaching for Emirati females," she said.
"Of course, as a proud Emirati female, I believe in providing opportunities for Emirati females to thrive in the football world.
"I would like to encourage females to be authentic and be able to provide various opportunities for other women. A few pieces of advice that personally helped me include working hard towards your passion, viewing every challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow, and finally asking for help when needed.”
Many perceive the Middle East and the Arab world to be restrictive towards women in sport, but Al Zarouni has a different view.
“In the UAE, our identifications are not considered limiting factors. I was never hindered by the fact that I am a female Emirati. We are encouraged to work towards our passion no matter what field it is in,” she said.
Participation in women's football in the region is undoubtedly on the rise, fuelled in part by the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, and surely increased further by the spectacular Women's World Cup that has just finished in Australia and New Zealand.
This trend makes the existence of a club like Onyx FC all the more vital.