BRITISH cycling legend Chris Froome has just found out he won the Vuelta a España eight years ago, after the Spanish victor was disqualified for doping. Cantabria rider Juanjo Cobo was declared positive, according to...
Women footballers in Franco's time: The 'hidden' national team
By thinkSPAIN Team Sat, Jun 1, 2019
WHILST over 70,000 British football fans get ready to cheer on their teams at tonight's Champions' League final in Madrid between Liverpool and Tottenham, one wonders whether an all-female match at this level will ever cause such an international furore or force supporters to fill up hotels as far away as Burgos because all rooms in the capital are taken.
Women's football has enjoyed greater publicity in the last couple of years, with fans of mainstream male football admitting how much they enjoy watching it and even finding it, in some cases, more detailed and interesting; but this is long overdue and it seems it will take a long time before female players get the recognition they deserve. Even now, 87% of women footballers in Spain earn so little (or nothing at all) that they have to combine their sport with a full-time job, and several of the country's top teams – even Real Madrid CF – do not have a female squad.
You might think this is because female football is such a recent phenomenon, a very 21st-century idea. But that's not the case: even in Franco's Spain, with the country gripped in an iron-fisted fascist dictatorship, it had a national women's football team.
Their players are now in their late 60s or their 70s, but show they still know how to handle a ball and would give many young men a run for their money. A recent report by Blue Media Studio showcased three ex-players - Quilla, Isabel and Carmen - and described their memories of playing for their country, a feat that seems impossible, given the social and political climate of the time, when women were considered second-class citizens whose main roles in life were child-bearing and housework.
Six years ago, others of their generation on the national team featured in a documentary at the Ibero-American Film Festival in Huelva, created by local director Carlos Troncoso.
“If you want to play for Spain, you'll have to make up the hours at work”
María Ángeles Pérez, known as 'Quilla', and Isabel Fuentes, admit fans of rival teams would sometimes throw stones at them and shout insults such as, 'go and do the dishes, bitch'.
In fact, the police had to guard the women's changing rooms, and men would heckle them and shout, 'get your shirt off'.
Lady footballers' earliest 'shirts' were designed to reveal as little flesh as possible: high-necked, buttoned to the throat, skirts instead of shorts – below the knee, of course – and thick woollen tights; in fact, some women outside of the sport even thought they should be wearing aprons.
Luckily for Quilla, Carmen and Isabel, the trend had moved more towards long-sleeved, high-necked sweaters, shorts and long socks by the time they started playing, largely thanks to the permissive attitudes of the 1960s in Europe's having crossed the Pyrénées and begun to defy convention.
But women's football was not censored, unlike almost anything else that the dictator's régime considered to go against its values. The female squad graced newspaper pages, televisions and radios after Rafael Muga, the man put in charge of creating the team, made their presence felt nationally.
They never earned any money from their sport - aside from a few very rare exceptions, such as Conchi Sánchez Freire, or 'Conchi Amancio' to the press, who went international and is quite possibly the most famous lady footballer in Spain's history. The majority had to have a full-time job on top of their sport, unless they were married.
“Sometimes, we'd come back from being on tour and would go straight to work without sleeping,” Quilla told Blue Media Studio.
“I worked in a jeans factory, and I'd often catch a quick kip on the tour bus and then go straight into work when I got home.”
Isabel Fuentes worked in a graphic arts company.
“When the Spanish national team called me and asked me to join them, I told my manager, and he said there was no problem with that – but I'd have to make up the hours I missed,” she recalls.
“I had to work three or four extra hours every day so I could get the time off to play.”
Training young players in 'healthy competition'
Both women retired from football before they turned 20, but never shut the door on their passion altogether.
Quilla says: “My son, who is now 40, played football from the age of seven and I trained a boys' team. I always tried to be a role model for them, to teach them discipline and to drum it into them that, first and foremost, the important thing was to work well together and form a good team.”
“You have to teach kids how to be rivals, not enemies,” says Isabel, who went on to train indoor football teams and often 'had to have a word with' trainers whose attitudes to the game were 'very harmful for the children'.
Mari Carmen Álvarez-Matey, known as 'Carmen', continued to play until 1983, the year in which she made her 'official' début with the national team, of which she went on to become representative before working as editor of Olímpico de Villaverde FC's magazine, a club all three women started and finished in.
“I've always stayed close to football, because it's my passion,” she says.
She supports Real Madrid CF and wears the club badge wherever she goes, despite having written in 2000 to its then new chairman Florentino Pérez – who is still at the helm – asking why he did not have a female squad, receiving a reply thanking her for her 'interesting comments', and seeing that even today, a women's team has not yet been formed.
Society disapproved, but the players didn't care
Isabel said that when she played in the grounds of SR Villaverde Boetticher CF in the Villaverde neighbourhood in Madrid, she felt the pitch was 'the whole world'.
“Football was my life. I worked and lived for it,” she admits, remembering away matches when the women had to sleep on floors or play on stony grounds, and how half of society thought they were 'freaks' and many had to keep their playing a secret for fear of reprisal, but that the 'passion' for their game always made the struggle and opposition fade into insignificance.
“You didn't care what they said about you. We liked it, and we weren't going to stop playing just because of other people's opinions,” Quilla remembers.
Until Rafael Muga started promoting women's football, it was very much a behind-closed-doors sport, and even once it was thrust into the public eye in around 1970, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) refused to recognise female teams – an attitude that would not change until 1983.
This meant the women's team was not federated and not allowed to bear the Spanish flag or play 'officially' for their country.
RFEF chairman José Luis Pérez-Payá wrote in sports newspaper Marca in January 1971: “I've got nothing against women's football, but I don't really like it much. I don't think it's very feminine, from the point of view of their image. T-shirts and shorts don't do anything for a woman's appearance. Any traditional regional costume would suit her much better.”
“We kept going because we loved it,” Carmen (pictured left) says.
“We were highly professional, but didn't get paid a single peseta. In fact, it was us who had to buy our own equipment and pay for our transport to matches.
“Thanks to Rafael Muga, our story transcended borders – we played international matches because we had a really good team, and it would still be considered good by today's standards.”
The creation of the national team, two women's squads in the Greater Madrid region and another couple elsewhere in the country became pathfinders for female footballers across Spain, opening doors to more and more women's squads and 'normalising' the notion of ladies in the game. Some even had their families right behind them – in Isabel's case, her football-crazy father presented her before a club chairman and said, “you've got a great player here.” Others, however, had to go against their parents' wishes or were ostracised by relatives for their 'unladylike behaviour'.
Tough as it was, “I'd do it all over again a thousand times,” says Carmen, and the others nod in wholehearted agreement.
Photograph 1: The Olímpico de Villaverde FC women's team in 1970 (RFEF/Olímpico de Villaverde)
Photograph 2 (L-R): Quilla, Carmen, Isabel – by Elena Buenavista of Blue Media Studio
Photographs 3 and 4: The Spanish national women's football team in 1983 (RFEF)
Photograph 5: Carmen shows she still has it in her and says she would 'do it all over again' (taken by Elena Buenavista of Blue Media Studio)
You may also be interested in ...
More Sport content
FATHER of five-times Formula 1 world Champion Lewis Hamilton says he wants to see Spain's Fernando Alonso back on the Grand Prix circuit since the sport 'needs someone like him'. Anthony Hamilton,...
WIMBLEDON semi-finalist Roberto Bautista Agut is one of two Spaniards still standing in the penultimate round, along with world number two Rafa Nadal – but he was supposed to be on his stag break in Ibiza from this...
FORMER Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas has defied all the odds and is back at work, starting the preseason with his current team Oporto – just two months after having stents fitted following a sudden heart attack...