I. Telling the Untold Stories of Women’s Soccer with Author Gwendolyn Oxenham
by Sophie Gayter, Raven Contributor/Editor of GoMakeMeASandwich.com
From the raucous futsal courts of New York City high school gymnasiums to the dirt fields and searing heat of Nigeria, Gwendolyn Oxenham’s “Under the Lights and in the Dark: Untold Stories of Women’s Soccer” peels back the layers on women’s football around the globe. The sum of this collection of non-fiction stories is a snapshot of young women sacrificing everything in pursuit of success and building a career in the beautiful game. For me, this book brought back memories of playing as a young girl, when anything was still possible. While reading about these inspirational women pursuing a dream in the sport they love, I was constantly reminded of the hours I spent banging the ball against my parents' garage door in my Mia Hamm jersey -- right foot, left foot (still crap) -- playing so often on the hard concrete that I ground down my first pair of cleats until there was no rubber left on the bottom. For anyone who has dreamed of a career in football, this book will remind you why you fell in love with the sport in the first place.
SG: What was it about this collection of stories that inspired you to write them, and how did you come across them?
GO: I wanted to know what it meant to play pro, or pro-ish, women’s soccer all over the world. There was stuff out there about Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach and the American players, but I was interested in the nobodies. Because I played [Gwendolyn played at Duke University and professionally, for one year, in Brazil.] I had connections. So I used my foot in the soccer world to go on a big scavenger hunt. I would hear something and then I’d want to go find the full story. One thing would lead me to another. What’s lucky about women’s soccer is that there aren’t 10 levels and layers that you have to go through. It’s not like trying to reach out to Wayne Rooney. Usually you can get someone to call you back.
SG: The NWSL features prominently in your book. The league just kicked off its sixth season. What are you most looking forward to this year?
GO: Utah [The Utah Royals, a team new to the league this year.] has thrown a level of resources at the game and are really treating their players like professionals in a way that’s not really been seen before, so I’m interested to see what that looks like. I’m always interested in the Marta/Alex Morgan combo in Orlando. Portland -- I’m a huge Allie Long fan, and now she’s playing for Seattle, their rivals, so I’m curious how that goes. I love Megan Rapinoe -- so Rapinoe and Allie Long together in Seattle is really interesting to me. I just want to see how the league grows. We’re in uncharted territory. We’ve gone beyond the other leagues [Previous professional women’s leagues in America, the WUSA and WPS, lasted two and three seasons, respectively.]. I look forward to seeing all the ways it keeps growing, and I would love to see it become a part of the national conversation. We still have a ways to go with regards to that.
SG: Your favorite ever women’s football player, and your favorite ever women’s football goal?
GO: Marta, and Marta. Maybe it makes me un-American, but the semi-final against the U.S. where she does that ridiculous circus act, and then scores through three different defenders [WATCH HERE]. That’s just magic. I was in Brazil during that game. And when I played soccer in Brazil, I knew about Marta but the Brazilians didn’t. No one had ever heard of her. And that game, she was all over the newspapers, everybody was watching the highlights. Everyone cared because of that goal. I remember watching her when she was 17 in her first World Cup. I literally sat up, moved to the coffee table and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. She’s a gift. She’s an absolute gift. I think she’s the greatest who will ever play the game.
SG: Looking back on this whole writing journey and the people you’ve spoken to are there any big takeaways that really stand out to you about the underside of the women’s game that we don’t necessarily get to see on TV?
GO: Anson Dorrance [The coach at UNC Chapel Hill and 21-time NCAA national champion.] has a quote from once when he watched Mia Hamm training by herself. “A champion is someone who is bent over in exhaustion when no one else is watching.” What he meant was you’re putting in the time on your own, even without a coach to impress. I think that quote has become eerily true for women’s soccer in general, in that even if you do make it to the top and you’re a professional women’s soccer player -- no one is watching still. The thing with women’s soccer is that it’s just the clearest form of doing something for love and that’s it. You’re definitely not doing it for money and you’re definitely not doing it for fame. You’re simply doing it because you can’t imagine not. These girls are choosing this over much more lucrative professions. They’re choosing it at the expense of families. And that to me is really inspiring.
“Under the Lights and in the Dark” can be purchased HERE, or at your local bookstore. You can follow Gwendolyn on Twitter HERE. And follow Sophie HERE. A longer version of this interview can be found at Sophie’s website, Go Make Me A Sandwich.
II. New Livin’ The Dream/Livin’ The Nightmare Scarf
AVAILABLE HERE. Perfect for City fans in Manchester Derbies or Juventus fans when facing Real Madrid in Champions League action.
III. The Notorious CCV (Cameron Carter-Vickers) and JW Talk USA, Spurs, and Mighty Ipswich Town
As the conversation surrounding the USMNT shifts from eulogy to born-again, Cameron Carter-Vickers is a name you hear a lot. Tottenham’s 6’1”, 200-pound, former high school shot putter has been tapped as the U.S.’s heir apparent at center back, a position that’s been in constant flux since the Bocanegra dynasty fell in 2012. CCV is English born, but eligible to represent Rog’s new home country via his father, former NBA first round-draft pick Howard “Hi-C” Carter.
This January, as I struggled to stay awake during another decaffeinated Championship season for my beloved Ipswich Town, CCV provided me a shot of espresso, signing a loan deal at Portman Road. To see an up-and-coming USMNT’er ply their trade in East Anglia has given me a great thrill, even if the team’s results haven’t. I recently had the chance to talk with CCV via phone, and as great as the temptation was to do a deep dive on all things Tractors, including Mick McCarthy’s departure, I figured GFOPs would be more interested in other topics, like the future of the USMNT and Spurs. Here are a few of my takeaways from our conversation:
There’s a sense of optimism and familiarity among the USMNT’s young crop.
CCV earned his first full cap against Portugal in November, coming on as a halftime sub in a 1 - 1 draw. He then played a rough and tumble, but composed 90 minutes in a 1 - 0 victory over Paraguay in March. He told me his pre-existing relationship with members of the back four in that game (DeAndre Yedlin, Matt Miazga and Jorge Villafaña) helped quell nerves. “There was a good energy. Everyone was working together. We were with each other and behind each other.” CCV and Miazga, who is currently on loan from Chelsea to Vitesse in the Netherlands, paired together in the 2015 U-20 World Cup and keep in touch via text while at their respective clubs, according to CCV. It sounds like this type of frequent communication is common among the young players called into these last two U.S. camps. “A lot of the guys played together before, so we know each other and have a connection on and off the field. We’re all hungry. We’re all pushing each other.” Loving again so soon after being burnt is tough, but it’s hard for USMNT fans not to find this encouraging.
CCV was born and raised in Britain, but he’s got some Bayou in him.
CCV’s dad is from Louisiana and played hoops at LSU before turning pro and playing in the NBA, and then in Europe. During summer holidays growing up, CCV visited his dad’s family in Baton Rouge. “I used to think it was so hot, that was my first impression.” He also told me about the commingling of accents, Essex and Cajun. “My dad’s family have pretty strong southern accents. Sometimes when they talk a bit faster, or it’s a big group of them talking, I have to concentrate to understand. I also have to slow down a bit and talk a bit clearer for them sometimes.” Lost in translation moments aside, it is clear CCV takes a lot of pride in representing the U.S. “I’ve always been very close with my dad and my family in the States. Every time I get to play for America, no matter what level it’s at, I feel like it’s an honor.” You definitely get a sense that America means more to CCV than just an opportunity to play international football. There seems to be a bonafide connection.
He hopes this season’s Championship experience leads to bigger and better for club and country.
Before Ipswich, CCV spent the first half of the season on loan at Sheffield United, another Championship side. As of this writing, he’s made a combined 30 appearances for the two clubs, most of them coming in the league, one that often blurs the line between football and pugilism. “We play two or three times a week. Sometimes there’s not much rhythm to the game. It's quite fast-paced, end to end, so you have to be ready to work hard, get up and down the pitch, and get ready for the battle.” CCV said he thinks the experience has made him a more consistent player. “Playing against full grown men every week helps.” While he keeps regular contact with Kyle Walker-Peters and Harry Winks at Spurs, his main connection to his parent club comes via a coach who attends his games and sends reports of each performance home from the front. “I’ve got to impress the managers, and hopefully get into the club next year. Then take it from there. It would be great to play big games in the Champions League, big games in the Premier League.” As for his country, he is solely focused on Qatar 2022. “The next qualifying campaign is massive.”
IV. GFOP-Created Coloring Book
GFOPs, you never cease to amaze us. Recently, we received a Raven from Malcolm Hardiman, a massive Liverpool supporter from Austin, Texas by way of the Bay Area. Malcolm's Raven carried something we never dreamed would exist. A Men in Blazers Coloring Book! We have made Malcolm's work of art available for download HERE. GFOPs, we'd love you to take Malcolm's amazing creation, put Crayon to paper, and send us your work via social using the hashtag #MiBColoringBook. You can also EMAIL us.
Malcolm, who works as a motion graphic designer, animator and video editor writes: “I have gleefully allowed myself to tumble into the rabbit hole that is Men In Blazers. Rog and Davo have an infectious joy of football, sport, and America that cannot be ignored. This book was written and illustrated from that place; unbridled joy and passion. While my passion for the game cannot be expressed by playing it, I can do something in a nod of deep thanks, and have a laugh while doing it. I have built many bridges in my life with football. Some would say Soccer is just a bunch of people running around trying to kick a ball. I'd say that's about right.”
V. Togga Update
Some sad news regarding the GFOPs at Togga. After years of running the platform for free, Togga is nearly out of money and in danger of closing. The platform is now being supported solely by contributions from its community of users. Nearly 1,000 users have contributed so far and Togga has hit 85 percent of the funding goal they need to finish the season strong. You can contribute HERE. If you are interested in a more substantial investment role with Togga, such as a strategic partnership, acquisition or other arrangement to help Togga achieve its potential, please contact Togga HERE.
VI. The People’s History of American Soccer Hall of Fame
Your amazing artifacts continue to pour into the CPOS for The People’s History of American Soccer Hall of Fame from locations like, oh, you know… BOTSWANA. We’re not kidding. GFOP Derek Workman, who now lives in Gaborone, sent us a Miami Fusion credential from his days as Lockhart Stadium’s (aka The House that Ray Hudson Built) visiting team liaison. The fact what started as one Alexi Lalas poster has grown into something that GFOPs around the world are contributing to in this manner blows us away. Speaking of which, we also took in a World Cup USA94 Soccer "Officially Licensed" Strategy Game Board from GFOP J.B. Little in Saint Paul, Minn. No one knows Officially Licensed Strategy like Striker The World Cup Pup.
Please keep sending the American soccer flotsam and jetsam that is gathering dust in your finished basements and attics with a note telling us about its meaning to you to. We are sending patches to everyone who contributes. Please post to:
Embassy Row Studios
Care of Men in Blazers
325 Hudson Street 7th Floor
New York, NY 10013
This issue’s edition of #PatchAtThePark features submissions from both the Manchester and Merseyside derbies last weekend, the first leg of Barcelona and Roma’s Champions League quarter final tie at the Camp Nou, the Washington Spirit’s home opener at the Maryland SoccerPlex, and the home of Skyline Chili and USL cauldron that is Nippert Stadium.