Girls always had to play soccer in the back court

When his daughter was eight and said she wanted to play football, 55-year-old Mark Osterhout tried to take her out. In his recently published book, football girl Read how that conversation went between them:

Osterhout: “Do more girls play football?”

Rosa: What difference does it make? I want to play football.”

Oosterhout: “Football isn’t for girls at all, is it?”

Rosa: “I want to play football.”

Osterhout: “Is there a girls’ team?”

Rosa: I don’t know. I want to play football.”

Rosa went to football. First in a mixed team of the local BZS club, the sports association Beusichemse Zoelmondse. After that I played in the leading football academy of SteDoCo in Hoornaar (near Gorinchem). Later she received an invitation to transfer to Excelsior and eventually to train with Jong Ajax. Oosterhout turns out to be the father of a very talented daughter. His book is a collection of short stories he wrote in his later years.

Through conversations in the car, when father and daughter come home after the race, we get to know Rosa. She strives for perfection and is rarely satisfied with her game. When Oosterhout tries to cheer her up or says she gave her a nice pass, she always replies, “So much went wrong.”

But the stories are about much more than Rosa’s talent. It comes down to what Oosterhout observes during Saturdays in clubs all over the Netherlands: girls are number two in world football. Behind the Boys. His daughter is now an adult, and some of the anecdotes in the book are from bygone years. Is the weather still like this? He said, “Yes.” “Things have improved since I introduced the sport. Then there were no girls’ locker rooms, no training grounds and no uniforms. Now the inequality plays out on a more subtle level,” he says. „On match days, boys are often assigned a field first, even including E and F. The girls are then assigned to the back court, even if they play at a higher level.” Even when Rosa was selected for the football academy and thus it was clear that she would play On a higher level, things didn’t get any better. „The final matches between the boys’ teams started half an hour before the girls’ final. The whole audience stood with the boys and in the first half loud carnival music rang out from the speakers. Disrespectful, the girls should also be able to focus in Their game, right?”

A few years ago, the boys wanted to send Team Rosa off the field because they wanted to train there. They said girls had no right to the field. He found the most painful party in the club when the girls were promoted from the main class to the first class. “The party took place during the first half of the men’s match. At first they forgot about it in the club. When the rest was about to finish, they were quickly called forward. The microphone didn’t work, moreover, there was no interest in the stands. Rosa was furious, she said. She will never go to a party again.”

Activist

Osterhout changed from a father who had nothing to do with football to a man increasingly committed to the equality of boys and girls in the world of football. “At first I didn’t feel like standing next to class every weekend. And I thought football was a stupid game. As soon as I saw her happiness and ambition, I began to sympathize with her and constantly encountered things that weren’t right.” He adds that it is difficult to find equality, not only in the field, but also in the media. “Look at how many times the woman is sitting at the table” football studio. Occasionally, former Orange international Daphne Coaster is allowed to join in, but there are usually grumbling guys around. Something like this too: the Women’s Champions League is not even broadcast in the Netherlands. My daughter watches it on YouTube.”

Oosterhout wanted to exercise his influence. “Her dream of becoming a top footballer has also become my dream.” He began questioning coaches, board members, and coaches and speaking frankly when inequality struck him. He told the mixed team coach at the time that the boys always refused to play ball to Rosa. At that time the music continued to be loud, he protested to the club management. He told the coach that his daughter did not want to shower with her team after the game. This is a tradition in football for boys, but these were girls. Difficult looks: What the hell, what do you mean? It was always misunderstood. Often the answer is: “That’s how we do it in football.” As for showering together: “It feels good for the group.”

Photo by Roger Kramers

“At SteDoCo, I joined the Women’s Committee to raise issues.” From 2012 to 2018, he spent almost all his free time in meetings, talking with other officials or trying to open the eyes of other parents. Thanks to him, the availability of dressing rooms and training grounds for girls improved. The areas of competition are also arranged differently. “The Dutch women’s team appeared at that time, in 2017. But it didn’t make enough difference: the budget of the women’s team is still less than half that of the men’s. And getting a coach for the girls’ team is still more difficult than getting the boys’ team.”

Last month, Oosterhout was invited to BNR for a chat with Wilfred Genee and comedian Martijn de Koning. “It hurts how they talk about women’s football. They said it is boring to watch, slow, that the field is too big for the women and the game is taking too long for them. Not that long.”

Just a little fanatic

Rosa is now 22 years old, and she is studying social geography in Nijmegen. Football, in the big Dutch league, is still played with Trekvogels in Nijmegen. She gave up her dream of becoming a professional soccer player. “I was in a game recently and nothing seemed to change. She’s still just as fanatic. My watch whistled that my heart rate was way too high, so I was just as excited.”

Oosterhout met Daphne Koster, now Ajax Women’s Director, during an assignment for his work as a communications consultant. “She sees the same problems in professional football. She has to constantly fight for the natural facilities for men, like the permanent physiotherapist for her team. For the men’s team, that is normal, but she still has to fight for it.”

How could he change, he thinks? “Amateur clubs need more women on the board. Or the women should start their own club. Then the girls are the starting point and they don’t always have to do business as an affiliate. Otherwise it will still be the men who decide the women.”

June 17th Correction: In an earlier version, Marc Oosterhout’s name was misspelled as “Oostendorp” in the introduction to the article.

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