Author Gwendolyn Oxenham, inspired by her own forays into football and in particular her time spent at Brazilian club Santos, sheds light on various stories focusing on the football journeys of women from around the world.
Women’s football has had it tough. As far back as the 1920s, when it looked set to take off in the UK before a ban (that wasn’t lifted until 1969) halted it in its tracks, all the way up to the modern day, women’s football has had to fight; fight for acceptance, for recognition, for mainstream credibility, and in plenty of cases, for survival.
Could the constant struggle in the face of adversity diminish the hopes and dreams of countless girls from pursuing careers in football? Could it fuck. In Under the Lights and Into the Dark, author Gwendolyn Oxenham offers plenty of proof of that.
If the first chapter, which focuses on a prominent American player honing her skills in “underground” games of men’s futsal, is an impressive example of a woman’s determination to succeed, just wait until Chapter 2 and a bat shit experience in Russia.
Most of the chapters focus on women striving to make it as professionals, and the struggles and sacrifice they endure to fulfill their dreams. However, Under the Lights also mixes in stories of how football can impact the lives of other remarkable women. We learn about a homeless girl in England and how football proved a catalyst for change, we are offered insight into the challenges of balancing motherhood and football, and we meet a group of gay women struggling for acceptance in a Christian Missionary team.
But the stand-out chapter of Under the Lights focuses on Nadia Nadim, who along with her mother and fours sisters fled Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, settled in Denmark and became one of the stars of women’s football and an inspiration to millions. Of all the chapters in Under the Lights, ‘The Football Refugee’ is the one you could envisage as a Hollywood movie.
Also a special mention to the final chapter where Oxenham and her family travel to Portland to discover first-hand how and why the city has become the Mecca of women’s football. Side note: Portland sounds fucking awesome. It’s now been added to my ‘places to visit’ list.
Essentially, Under the Lights delves into the many ways football has impacted the lives of women around the world, across cultures and backgrounds. For those pursuing pro careers, there is a constant sense of uncertainty and precariousness – for their own futures and that of the game.
Oxenham is a gifted storyteller, keeping Under the Lights well paced while not sacrificing descriptiveness and scene-setting where necessary. It is an enjoyable, relaxing read – I managed to complete it in a couple of sittings – and as soon as I finished it, I ordered Oxenham’s other book Finding the Game.
Under the Lights is packed with inspirational, thought-provoking stories of incredible women and their relationships with football – not forged in the hope of money, fame, or adulation, but for the love of the game.
Under the Lights is for anyone who enjoys extraordinary sports stories inspired by ordinary people. And if you’re a young girl or woman with eyes on a career in football or indeed any other sports, it is compulsory reading.