Real Madrid is the most successful soccer team in Spain.
In terms of European Cup and Champion’s League wins, they’re also the most successful club on the continent.
The fact they don’t currently have a female team – despite having a male basketball team – says something of the standing of the women’s game in the country.
So when the junior girls’ team AEM Lleida joined a boys’ league, the ridicule they received may not have been unexpected.
Some of the players’ parents called the idea ‘crazy’. One referee constantly referred to the team as ‘the princesses’ as he officiated one of their games.
Andrea Gómez, the team’s top scorer with 38 goals this season, doesn’t seem to care what people say.
“I always try to show that soccer isn’t just for boys,” she said. “If you’re technically better, you can compensate for being perhaps physically weaker.”
The move to the boys’ league, which takes advantage of a Spanish soccer federation rule that allows mixed leagues until the age of 14 – came after AEM Lleida had dominated the local girls’ competitions.
José María Salmerón, the club’s general director, told the New York Times, “to push these girls, we felt they had to play against boys because you need strong opponents to make real progress.”
After dominating their male counterparts just two years later, it appears real progress was certainly made.
Club president Sergio Gonzalez, also told the paper that “if this had gone very wrong, we would have been held responsible for humiliating the girls.”
He added that “it’s really been more a problem for parents rather than their boys. It’s strange, but most of the macho comments and insults have come from the mothers of some of the boys we play.”
One magnanimous opposition player demonstrated this, saying, “it’s hard to lose against girls, but these ones really are very good.”
The club’s success has seen its female membership swell to over 25%, which is the highest in the province.
Whether that can help spark growth in female soccer in a country where support for the Barcelona and Real Madrid senior male teams reaches almost religious levels remains to be seen.
If it does, it may well be a slow process.
In typical fashion, 38-goal top scorer Andrea Gómez wants to create her own opportunities.
Although proud of what she and her teammates have achieved, she has her sights set on bigger goals – those in the USA.
“I want to play where women’s soccer is really valued,” she said. “The paradise is in the United States — not here, unfortunately.”
Despite their success on the field, AEM Lleida is currently struggling with a lack of resources and sponsors.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to enable them to continue to promote the women’s game in Spain as the current situation is, the club says, “a barrier to the entry and development of footballing talent.”
via New York Times