Sitting in the bus and I start to reminisce about how many bus windows I looked out of. How many country landscapes? City traffic? Flowing waters? How many have I seen? One of my first memories has to be at the very back of the bus leaving Coverciano in Milan, Italy, watching the Italian boys on Vespas chase us. For a 14-year-old girl, this was a teen movie come to life. Now, I’m all the way up front. Literally next to the driver, because my motion sickness is just too bad. And now I like looking out the front of the bus. Today we are headed to play Barcelona for the second leg of the Women’s Champions League semi-finals. Everything is flashing before my eyes as my footballing career is coming to an end. It has had a wonderful and beautiful life of its own and, as I take my gloves off for the final time, I believe it’s only right to give a farewell tribute.
Before playing in France there had already been a long career. I’m in overtime and the clock is ticking into injury time. I can feel it ticking down. I’m excited yet scared as hell for that final whistle to blow; to run off the field and hug him, my family, and my teammates. To start my life… as if being a professional footballer for almost 15 years wasn’t life enough? I’m 36 years old and I feel like my life is just starting, yet looking back I’ve already lived possibly two or three times by some people’s standards. So how did it start?
It’s a funny story and if you’ve heard any of my podcasts or interviews then you’ve surely heard it, so rather than bore you again, I urge you to jump a couple paragraphs. If not, I encourage you to sit back and imagine a classic little middle class suburban American / Italian family of the 80’s. A fresh-eyed couple welcoming their first born. But to the total heartbreak and utter humiliation of the father this baby was swaddled in pink and not blue. He stepped away from the hospital to mourn his manhood or that’s at least how he thought at the time. He took some time but then wiped his tears and went back into the hospital promising to be the best girl dad possible and to raise his daughter and future daughters to be beautiful delicate flowers ( true story). A second daughter came (me), and the family lived in relative suburban normalcy. Until one day the mother had the audacity to sign up her eldest daughter for youth soccer). She thought her eldest was a bit too stagnant and was hoping to encourage more physical activity. After a lengthy conversation she convinced her husband that this had been the right choice. A year later, the once ‘anti-sport for girls’ father was the eldest’s head soccer coach and the family never looked back. Every weekend was spent at the fields come rain or shine. Holidays were planned around tournaments and life revolved around the ball forevermore. The youngest daughter soon too found herself on the field.
The only problem was, I was HORRIBLE. While my parents were very supportive they are not masochists and did not want to watch what was the horror of my skills on the field. Luckily, by this time my sister was a goalkeeper and being the little follower I was, I needed to do everything she did.
I got my first pair of gloves and never took them off.
Thanks to my total disregard for my own physical safety I was able to progress in the goal quite quickly. It had nothing to do with any god given talent, but more what god didn’t give me, fear of getting hit by the ball, being kicked in the face, strawberries on my thighs, scrapes on my knees and bruises everywhere. I know my mom had to have many talks with my school explaining why I kept showing up battered — and that I really wasn’t in any danger at home
From there, my life with my gloves just took off. I made youth teams three age groups older than me. I was invited to youth national team camps and travelled to Italy and Brazil on multiple occasions. Football became a part of my identity. It’s how people knew me and it’s how I knew myself. When my classmates started talking about University and the SATs I did the same. But it wasn’t the same, because I knew I was going to a top university (my stellar grades also helped) and I knew I would play football. Just like I knew once I graduated I would go pro. The funny thing is, going pro wasn’t really an option since it didn’t really exist in the form we have now. Yet, I knew some of my idols from the USWNT ‘99 had gone abroad, so that’s what I would do too.
I first crossed the Atlantic and landed in Sweden. But my goal had always been to play in the land of my ancestors, so I did all the necessary work to get a passport and I was able to play 5 seasons in Italy, Torres Calcio Femminile. The ups and downs and roller coaster of playing on an Island are too many to bore you with here. That’s a novel for a different day. Leaving the island I took my gloves north to Holland. But that didn’t really feel like home, so I packed up again and headed to France to try my luck playing for AS Saint-Etienne. But lady luck had other ideas.
During my first month in France, I tore up my knee, breaking my ACL, MCL, PCL, 2x meniscus, but it didn’t break my spirit. Rather, I think I became more determined and stubborn than ever before. After 18 long months of recovery, I was able to put my gloves back on and play in Norway, then a quick stop in Sweden and I was back to France playing in Saint Malo. Playing 2nd division in France was a great option and allowed me to stay with my fiancé but I didn’t love the experience and decided that maybe it was getting close to the end. I decided that going back to school was necessary to build my career and I found myself at The Football Business Academy in 2018.
The season ended and I was in full swing at The FBA. The fall came around and I had to do an internship for school, which put me in Lisbon working for Benfica. I thought about trying to find a club but decided that focusing on my off-field career was more important than my gloves, so I only put them on to play pick up games with my colleagues. People asked if I had retired but I didn’t really have an answer. It appeared so but I just couldn’t come to say it. The winter brought me to Switzerland to finish school and I graduated, thrilled to start my new career, but nothing really happened.
That was, until a few months later when one of my old professors took a chance on me and hired me to be a project manager for the Women’s European Freestyle Football tournament in Budapest, which was the first event to kick off the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final. The experience was amazing to say the least. I learned a lot working alongside Dan and soaking up the passion the freestylers had. I was also lucky to meet a lot of influential people in the women’s football sphere and obviously got to watch my first Champions League Final. Ironically enough that final was the first time in a year that I desperately wanted to play again. The stadium, the perfect grass, the atmosphere, everything ignited something in me that I thought I had buried long ago. I went home that night and told my sister I wanted to play again.
The next day I woke up to reality. My job was now over, and I was heading home to Linkedin, emails, calls and utter frustration. But as fate would have it, my plane ride home changed my life.
As I boarded the flight I noticed the gentlemen in front of me had a folder that said ECA and since I knew there had been a conference by them at the final, I decided to strike up a conversation. After we chatted for a few minutes he invited me to take the seat next to him and our conversation on the development of women’s football continued for most of the flight. Right before we landed I went to the restroom and when I came back he had fallen asleep against the window. As we were touching down there was a bump and he woke up. He turned and looked at me and asked if I wanted to play again. I told him in so many words that if he was joking it was cruel and an unusual punishment. He guaranteed it was not a joke and that once he spoke with the GK coach and confirmed my abilities, it was a definite possibility. I’m a player, of course I wanted to play! My mind started racing. The little girl inside of me was jumping up and down, screaming sign now, write it on a napkin, who cares, commit! The rational adult said “you just got a degree, you’ve been out for a year and getting a job has been hell. Do you really want to put your body through all of that to be right back where you are next year?” So I did what any rational person would do and what my mentor Dan had taught me. I thought “Fuck it! Double it!!” I’ll play but only if I have a serious role in the marketing department within the club.
A few meetings later and the rest is history. I will be retiring from professional football and my final club is Paris Saint Germain.
Countless times I’ve been asked what’s the greatest game I ever had? Best save? Greatest moment?
Usually it’s the most recent. I don’t remember being on the field. I know I was there and I know I was “in it”. I know that I usually have a crazy stream of consciousness and after the game I can rattle off every moment, but once I sleep it’s gone. Ok maybe not that quickly, but I can’t remember much about being in the game. I can remember what happened around it. For example, in the Champions League of Torres vs Brondby in 2011, I had an amazing game with some big saves that kept my team in the game. I can’t remember the actual actions if my life depends on it, but I can remember walking into the locker room back in Sassari and my coach calling me into his locker room. I’d only been called in there 2 x previously and neither for a positive reason, so naturally I was feeling hot and nervous. Sitting on the bench was our goalkeeper coach changing for practice. He called me in to tell the GK coach (he never travelled with us because of cost) how amazing I played and how happy he was with my performance. I can only remember one other time when he spoke so highly of me. A game against Tavagnacco, the only team competing with us for the league that year and a game we could have lost had I not outperformed myself. I remember saving a break away but not much else except my coach chewing out the team at halftime but praising me saying I was saving their ass. But whenever I read a sports book or watch a documentary, players can recall play by play, moment by moment. I wonder if they really can or if they just re-watch videos and it comes back. I have very few videos of my top games and maybe it’s better that way. I am jealous of people that can so vividly remember their games play by play. I really wish I could relive some of those great moments. Funny though how the bad plays are burned into my memory to be replayed over and over. Maybe I do not need the good ones. I know they happened and maybe I just want to keep space in my head and heart for the rest of the memories still to come.
It’s because of my sister, I put on my first gloves, but it’s because of me that I never took them off. They are a piece of who I am. “I’m a football player”. What happens now? Will they always be a part of my identity? I’ve always known I am more than just a football player and once my career was over, I would be more, but still I loved that initial moment saying it out loud and seeing people’s reaction. Sometimes impressed, other times confused. Wondering if it was possible for a woman to play professionally. Luckily, this response is happening less and less in society now.
Though I haven’t played a real game in almost 2 years. I signed with Paris understanding that my role would be more impactful via the locker room and board room rather than on pitch exploits. The game has changed. The gloves are better, but I’m still the little girl who never wanted to take her gloves off or leave the field.
Now we have three rotating kine’s (physical therapists): two present 90% of the time and at least one 100% of the time. Equipment staff that wash all our gear (and anything else we sneak in… no questions asked) and we have a glorious green carpet training field. A full gym and all of this is just for us. We have a code that opens every door that we can unlock whenever we want. So simple that it seems like it’s always been this way. But it hasn’t. Thinking back… not even close. I can remember washing my personal undergarments in hotel sinks and bathtubs while on road trips (even with the Italian national team). I remember landlords banging on the door because rent was long overdue by the club and hot water being turned off. Jersey bags getting lost or a manager’s great idea to stash a bottle of French wine with the white jerseys for safekeeping, only for the bottle to smash, meaning we show up to the game with nothing to wear. I remember showing up to games with fields that look like the farmer had just ploughed them ready for the new harvest to be sowed. Fields that more closely resembled a kids paddling pool than a top division football field. Yet the bad stuff around the game is not what I will miss most. Most athletes, no matter the sport, say it’s their teammates and the camaraderie that they miss the most.
Walking through hotels, airports or train stations, people know we are something, some one… but who? An unidentifiable group, yet somehow identified.
I used to be that player. The first to arrive and last to leave. When I was a child, my dad had to drag me off after practice or otherwise wait for the lights to be turned off to go home. Then I became one of the first off having work or something more important to do. Now with the countdown in full effect, I find myself lingering a little longer. Not in the goal or getting extra training in, but just being there a few extra moments to enjoy unspoken camaraderie with my teammates. Exchanging a knowing glance with players who won’t be wearing the same colors next season, being mindful of the others who don’t know this yet. Maybe they feel the same, a few extra moments together right now as teammates. Fighting for one another for one trophy under this banner. Last night at the hotel we sat around the table. The most eclectic group included myself, 3 French (players that never joke and laugh with us), a Canadian, a Spaniard and a Chilean, united by one common thread that we are teammates. With not much else in common, we joked about who is cuter on the men’s team and about our significant others. We laughed and teased. Nothing was about the game or what may happen tomorrow. The table was cleared around us and gradually all the lights turned out around us except for the one directly overhead. The signal that the hotel staff wanted to go home for the night and yet this hodge-podge group chose to laugh on. Maybe we all understood the significance of what we might achieve and that no matter what, it will never be this group again, not next year, not ever.
The morning is silence and solitude and then the eruption of life bubbles out. Forks and knives make the morning song of breakfast and the world awakes together. The game is early and this is the only meal that will be had before the semi-finals.
The game will go on. It always does. More gloves will be bought and more little girls will start playing. But the time has come to take these particular gloves off for the last time. They’ve been very good to me and while they were never golden, they were good, some might say great. I will always remember them and be thankful for what they gave me. I’m sure I’ll see you again, goodbye my little friends, safe travels, see you on the otherside.