Any #Peruana wanting a real chance at a professional football career will eventually play in #Lima, where the fans and fields for women are a little less scarce. Along with my fixer and translator Jimena Talavera, I meet national team selection goaltender Fiorella Valverde Salazar at a Starbucks to talk shop.
Fiorella is a tall and confident 25-year-old with a long history in the game. “My family was a footballing family,” she explains. “My dad had a team, Sporting Chala. I grew up around football and always played with my family.” But though she was raised as much an heir to the game as anyone, it didn’t protect her from the judgement of others. “My family never bothered me or anything like that, but strangers did. I mean, people who weren’t my friends did bother me for playing football. They’d say, ‘Football is a man’s sport. You’re going to hurt yourself.’”
3132type33p34contents35type36text37contents38Fiorella’s football career has been bright. Drafted to the U-19 team at only 15 years old
As we’re talking, a man from the club walks through the stands distributing a full-colour magazine. Adriana holds up a copy. “This is the real club,” she says. “We use the shirts, but it’s not like… official.” The 12-page fanzine has stats, photographs, and editorials about the Sporting Cristal players; there’s even a pull-out poster. On the back of the last page, in with the advertisements, there’s a team picture of Fuerza Cristal. “Yeah,” Kiara sighs. “We’re not official from the club.”
The Fuerza Cristal women’s side finished their 2014 season in the champion spot. They still aren’t allowed to use the official club name, Sporting Cristal.
Although Lima’s JC Sport Girls play in the same league as Fuerza Cristal, this team makes a different first impression. When my translator Jimena and I walk onto their practice field in el Callao, the players are sitting in a circle reading the Bible. It makes me wonder if the JC in their name stands for Jesus Christ; it turns out I’m half right.
“In the beginning, it had to do with a man that supported us, Mr Jesús Canessa.” María Inés Ticona Acuña - known to her friends as Inés - is a club founder and, at 31 years old, semi-retired. She’s moved from her position on the defensive line to assisting as a teacher with the team. “It also coincided with the theme of ‘committed youth’ - Juventud Comprometida.”
Inés came to the professional game fairly late, after learning at 17 years old that there was women’s football in the first division. She was talented and determined, and she got called up to Peru’s first U-19 team where she got the chance to play internationally. Though she loved the sport, she detected a lack of discipline in the players - a failing she saw as contributing to the poor reputation of the women’s game. For Inés, this was something she could resolve. “Being [a coach and teacher] is another responsibility. Not only making sure the girls play well but making sure they conduct themselves well. They are professionals. They not only have aspirations in the area of football but also to pursue a career, to pursue their studies, and maybe both things at once. If they really love football, they’re going to have to discipline themselves.”
One of the “girls” benefiting from Inés’ coaching is Amparo Chuquival Lizana, a 22-year-old midfielder for the JC Sport Girls and sometimes national team member. She knows first-hand what the stakes are and she takes her efforts seriously. “I think that for any girl that started out playing football in the street - and the majority of us started out playing in the street - to be told, ‘Hey, you’ve been called up to represent your country’… It’s like, wow, out of all the girls you were chosen to represent your country and go out and show that in Peru there are also girls that play like us!”
But her success comes with a social price. “I mean, who doesn’t suffer discrimination?” she asks. “Being a woman who plays football… [people who don’t know her say] ’Gee, you’re machona.’ They insult you.” Inés agrees. “They say that football is not for women.”
“I think if you ask each and every one of us, we’ve all been through that, but thank God little by little it’s decreasing,” Amparo adds. “Besides, we’re showing that we can also play and play well, maybe even better than the guys… Definitely better than the guys.”
There’s a famous quote by Scottish midfielder Bill #Shankly. “Football is a matter of life and death, except more important,” he said. I ask Inés and Amparo what they think about this.
“More important than life? No. Let me tell you something,” Inés says. “Before I met God, football was my refuge. At that time my family wasn’t it, so football was my refuge. But the day I met God, the tiers changed. Now it’s God, family, football. In that order.”
“We can be fantastic football players, but if we’re not real people, if we don’t love God and we don’t love everyone else, well, we’re nothing,” Amparo adds. “I think that’s the loveliest thing you can have in a club.”