Greek women players bend it like Beckham

Women’s soccer in Greece first started in 1979 but it was not until 1990 that the federation’s first official championship took place. Women’s soccer is still in its fledgling stage with only two tournaments held every year, the premier and second league national championships. There are over 50 teams, but not all of them have enough funding to get through the championships. Some do not take part at all while others abandon the contest midstream. One Greek national team is currently preparing to qualify for Euro 2009 in Finland. The next qualifying home match against France will take place on April 26. Amateurism characterizes the sport due mainly to lack of funding. Nevertheless about 1,500 girls persist and train every day because they enjoy playing; at best they are refunded traveling expenses. The matches, held every Sunday throughout Greece, are attended mainly by relatives and friends. There is an obvious lack of promotion, organization and funding, but not of talent or zeal. International players Eleni Kakabouki, Evi Sereti and Aspasia Skiada are in the Greek national team and have seen what women’s soccer is like abroad. «We played against the French national team and there were 10,000 spectators in the stadium and the game was broadcast live.» Greek television though is indifferent and the sports press and radio provide minimal if any coverage. The Aegina team was thrice Greek champion between 2003 and 2005, it played in Europe and finished in 13th place, quite a feat if one takes into account that it played against professional European teams. The team’s trainer, Panayiotis Sakorafos, believes that it is not only the federation and state that do not take women’s soccer seriously but also the teams’ presidents who often do not even turn up at meetings to decide the future of the sport. Aegina’s team president, Costas Karayiannis, puts his own money into the team to preserve some kind of dignity. Sponsorship is lacking and players sometimes train on unsuitable pitches. For some of the women who work all day, finding the energy to train in the evening can be difficult. Watching them play is enough though to dispel any preconceived notions, it is definitely not just a game for boys. Many of the Aegina team members do not live on Aegina. Maria played in the Kalamata team for 16 years but this year joined the Aegina team. A mother of a 7-year-old girl, she continues to live and work in Kalamata and trains alone. She joins the team to play in matches. She claims their standard of soccer is high and people would recognize this if they came to the matches. She would like to play professionally and take part in a match abroad, even become a coach later. Magoula’s young players Athina Redoumi, the coach for the women’s team of the local Astera soccer club in Magoula, Attica, is a key figure. Formerly one of the best players in Greece and a member of the national team, Redoumi has played in many championships and possesses a wealth of experience. Although still young (27), she stopped soccer because of an injury and just missed out on the Olympic Games. The Astera team will be taking part in the women’s championship for the first time this year. The women’s team has been together for three years and its members are young school or university students who live in Magoula or nearby towns. Maria Aletra, just 11 years old, is the youngest and cannot take part in the championship because of her age. A football fan like her father, she used to watch soccer on television and then decided to join the local team. She says that often in the break at school the boys fight to have her in their team. The small teams like Astera are struggling to survive. «Before the Olympic Games, there was some funding and promotion and then afterward they cut everything. Only the referees are provided. I have to find money to go to Katerini, pay the doctor, find clothes or a pitch. If you can’t do it they strike you off. That’s why every year teams stop going to the championships. There is no progress, every year is worse than the year before,» Redoumi complained. For most of the girls the game is considered to be a hobby and way of keeping fit. They have aspirations but generally they enjoy the sport.