LOST BOYO (well ‘Girlo’) IN HOLLAND (AZ, 2008-2010)
OTHER CLUBS: Cardiff City Ladies, Newport Strikers, Bristol Academy
The unoffical launch of the Olympic Games was in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, 2 days before Danny Boyle’s Tempest-themed opening ceremony. The opening event of London 2012, in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, would be women’s football featuring Team GB against New Zealand. A small crowd attended the event in Wales’ national stadium, but perhaps the event’s attendance might have been better if the women’s Team GB actually featured some Welsh footballers (who knows, they might even have got past the quarter finals). Of the 18 women called up to Hope Powell’s squad, 16 were English, 2 were Scottish – none were Welsh (or Irish for that matter). One player who had been desperate to make an appearance in the Olympics was Wales’ Jessica Fishlock.
What perhaps made Fishlock’s omission even worse was that the first event of London 2012 on Day -2 (2 days before the opening ceremony) would be the women’s football which was to be held in her home nation. Wales, a nation that has been largely sceptical of the Team GB football team concept in general, was always going to be a tough place to launch the women’s football and perhaps an injection of Welsh talent into the squad may have got more punters through the doors. Instead Powell opted for a largely English-born squad, who went onto secure a 1-0 victory over New Zealand in front of 24, 549 (still a very healthy crowd compared to average Woemn’s football attendances); interestingly, it was reported by some in the press that close to 40,000 tickets were sold, which begs the question what had happened to the other 10,000 fans? Anyway, Team GB’s women’s team chance to engage with the Welsh public was missed with Fishlock declaring in an interview:
“It does feel like a whole nation has been completely taken out of the equation, especially as two of [Team GB’s] games are in Wales.”
Although I alluded to the idea that some Welsh internationals on show for Team GB may have improved attendances, this is not to suggest that Fishlock should not have been in the squad on merit as her career displays. Also, she is mentioned on this blog because her career has led to her playing football overseas and thus she becomes our site’s first ever Lost Girlo!
Fishlock was born in Cardiff in 1987 and her football career would begin in her home city as she played for Cardiff City Ladies. In 2003, Cardiff City Ladies severed ties with their male counterparts, although they opted to keep the name Cardiff City and the club shirt; however, the ladies team shunned the Bluebirds tag and even created its own badge with a red dragon as its main symbol (sounds very familiar to me). Fishlock would prove inspirational to Cardiff LFC leading them to the Southern Championship ensuring promotion to the Women’s Premier League; in the process of doing so Fishlock would go down in the record books as Cardiff LFC’s club record goalscorer. Cardiff would finish 10th out of 12 in their first season in the Women’s Premier League, but they were relegated in the 2007-08 season.
During Fishlock’s time at Cardiff she would get a taste of European football with Cardiff regularly qualifying through their repeated winning of the Women’s Welsh Cup. Similar to men’s game, Wales’ coefficient is so low that Welsh clubs enter qualifying in the first round of European competition – Cardiff have never got past first round qualifying, but it was in this qualifying round, in 2003, that Fishlock made her European bow against Temir in a 1-0 defeat in Cardiff. The UEFA Women’s Cup was rebranded The UEFA Women’s Champions League in sync with the men’s competition and Fishlock would go onto feature in the new look tournament in future years.
After years of impressing at Cardiff, and after a brief spell at Newport strikers before returning to Cardiff, Fishlock made the short move over the River Severn to play for Bristol Academy, where she would spend one season. Bristol Academy had become one of the best teams in the Women’s Premier League and had pushed for the title during the 2006-07 season – the season before Fishlock joined the club. Fishlock’s performances for Bristol had clearly caught the eye of some football scouts and soon there was mention of AZ Alkmaar wanting to sign the Welshwoman. After AZ approached Fishlock she made the leap over the channel to Holland, joining the reigning Dutch women’s champions in September 2008. Fishlock was still only 21 at the time.
Fishlock told Women Soccer Scene about the difficulty she had coming to a decision on whether to leave Wales for Holland:
“It was a very, very difficult decision as I had so much here to stay for, to just pack it all in and go on my own to a different country where I don’t really speak the language was quite scary, but it was the right decision for me and, with the season I had, the right one for my football. It was probably the hardest thing that I’ve ever done both personally and football wise but you have to do things if you want to get to where you want.”
Women’s football has sky rocketed in Holland thanks to some meticulous planning of its development and publicising, with special emphasis on the improvement at grassroots level. In 2012, it has been reported that women’s football is the fast growing sport in the Netherlands after years of decline in a game that had really not taken off in Holland. The rapid improvement of the women’s footballin Netherlands was perhaps best displayed by the national team making it to the last 4 of Euro 2009 (the first major tournament they had ever qualified for). Netherlands did find themselves topping Group 6 of qualifying for Euro 2013, once again showing their huge improvement over previous years, before they were beaten 1-0 England in Salford 2 months ago to lose their perch at the top of the group. With Netherlands being such a small, football-obsessed nation many questioned why the women’s game was not excelling there? In 2007, the KNVB (Dutch football federation) introduced a professional women’s league in line with the Dutch Eredivisie with AZ one of the 6 founder members.
When Fishlock joined AZ in 2008 (the league now increased to 7 teams from the opening season) she immediately found out and enthused about how the Dutch FA were running women’s football so much better than their English counterparts. The women’s team in Holland are all tied to the men’s clubs meaning they share the same facilities as the men and are treated and shown the same respect as the men’s teams. Fishlock stated in an interview with the Guardian shortly after making the switch to AZ:
“The League is only in its second season but it’s doing exactly what the Dutch FA wanted. Holland have just qualified for Euro 2009, the first time they’ve ever got to a major tournament, and as well as the quality of play improving the game is building a much bigger fan base. Attendances are excellent – we had almost 4,000 at our home game last Thursday – and on Sundays there’s a women’s Match of the Day type programme on TV. Players in the English league can only dream about all that and I think the FA could learn a lot from what’s happening over here. It’s much better in so many ways.”
The Dutch women’s league was even setup in a way that the talent base of Dutch women’s football was spread across teams in the league equally, unlike the hording that occurs in the British game. With such a focus on improving the national team, many took exception to Fishlock moving to AZ and she was even jeered by fans at times just for getting involved in the Dutch game.
“The other teams weren’t overly impressed with it. The way the league is set up is for Holland as a national side – then all of a sudden they bring in a foreigner and they weren’t too happy with it. I had a lot of boos and cheers when I made a bad pass but, looking back on it, it’s quite funny and I just take it as a compliment.”
Fishlock’s move to AZ would coincide with a very successful period in the club’s short history and her own personal football career, but it would not begin too well for both club and Fishlock; the club crashed out of the UEFA Women’s Cup and Fishlock found the early months tough as she tried to adjust to a new league and life. This may have also been down to a positional switch for Fishlock, as she was asked to play as a more attacking midfield player compared to her role with Cardiff and Bristol Academy where she played much deeper. Despite some early setbacks, things would all work out for Fishlock and AZ. AZ had won the inaugural women’s Eredivise before Fishlock linked up with the club. In her first season in Holland, Fishlock played a big role in helping AZ secure their second consecutive league title at the end of the 2008/09 season after a decisive last day showdown saw AZ smash Willem II 6-0 to clinch glory.
Fishlock was surprised by the reception the title victory received in Alkmaar:
“In the next few days, there were parties put on for us and an open top bus
around the whole of Alkmaar. We had a meal with the mayor and a lot of stuff was
put on for us and a supporters party as well. I’ve never experienced anything
like that in my life.”
A far cry from the celebrations (of lack of) that would greet a title winning team in this country’s women’s game.
AZ’s success would continue into the 2009/10 season as the Dutch club once again won the Dutch champiosnhip – their 3rd in 3 years. Coincidentally, the club once again secured their title victory with a game to spare with another 6-0 victory over Willem II, meaning Fishlock was treated to another lavish celebration.
After just over 2 years, 2 very succesful years, Fishlock decided to leave Holland in January 2011 and return to her previous club, Bristol Academy. Fishlock joined Bristol alongside three other signings from the Netherlands; ex-Everton player Alex Culvin from AZ and Dutch superstar Anouk Hoogendijk from FC Utrecht. Bristol Academy’s Head Coach Mark Sampson said on Fishlock’s return:
“Jess has played for Bristol Academy in the past and is very excited to come “home”. She is experienced at senior International level and I am sure she will flourish in the new Women’s Super League. Alex is a very strong attacking midfielder.”
Alongsisde domestic success and success on the continent, Fishlock has attained 58 caps to date and scored 17 goals for her country. Fishlock made her senior debut for Wales in a game against Switzeland, aged 19 and she has progressed with Wales to the point of being made captain for Wales’ game against Republic of Ireland 2 months ago and retaining the captaincy for future games. Not quite on the same scale as Holland, but Wales is also going through a renaissance in women’s football. In 2011 the Welsh Football Trust unveiled plans to improve participation in women’s football by 40% with them citing the opening women’s game of London 2012 at the Millennium Stadium as a ‘shop window’ opportunity.
The surge in Welsh women’s football has coincided with the foreign import Jarno Matikainen being made manager of the Welsh women’s national team. The FAW displayed their intentions to improve the women’s game in Wales by making Matikainen their first ever full-time professional head of women’s football. The Finn had had a wealth of experience playing in the Finnish league and overseeing the women’s game in Finland and was looking to deploy his knowledge in the Welsh setup, where he would be overseeing the development of women’s football through all the age groups, similar to Brian Flynn who recently departed from the Wales setup.
The work Matikainen has put in is beginning dividends as Wales’ results have begun to improve steadily and with players such as Fishlock, Everton’s Gwennan Harries and Arsenal’s Jayne Ludlow in the team, the future looks bright for the Wales team. Only last night (9th August 2012) Wales beat Belgium 5-3 in Verviers to carry on a recent run of good form, captain Fishlock adding the 5th goal.
With Welsh women’s football on the rise, hopefully the new setup can produce more Jessica Fishlocks for the future.
A lot of the quotes used were from interview Jessica Fishlock did with Women’s Soccer Scene in 2009.