Only girl on the field

Sep 21, 2021

Football Stories

A personal perspective on female football heritage

As a part of the Football Makes History project, a webinar series was organised in the spring of 2021 called ‘FC EuroClio’. One panel discussion revolved around the personal experiences of football pioneers and considerations about football as a cultural heritage.

Check out the report of the inspiring contribution by Petra Landers.

In this article:

COVER Image

Petra Landers with the tea set she received upon winning the Euro’s in 1989 (Photo: Flickr, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung).

Petra Landers with the tea set she received upon winning the Euro’s in 1989 (Photo: Flickr, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung).

Love of the game

Coach, mentor, former football player, and contributor to the rise of women’s football. Petra Landers became a member of the first-ever German women’s national football team in 1982. Petra is an international footballer who also won the European championship, but looking at her, you see a down to earth, yet incredibly determined woman who still has the same passion for football as when she started off as a kid. Petra got an interest in the game in a time when football was a sport only for boys and girls were set to do other kinds of activities.

However, she does not shy away from saying “I think football was already inside of me when I was born.” When at the age of 8 she was invited by her cousin to play on the streets, Petra started regularly playing with the boys from the neighborhood. She was always ready to play, always wearing her football shirt underneath her clothes. Despite being the only girl in the group, she felt welcome and did not have any sort of unpleasant experience. It was only when she joined the women’s team that she started hearing rude comments. “It was very new for me, but it didn’t matter because I truly loved the game.” Women’s football was forbidden in Germany (as well as in other countries) until 1970 and Petra clearly remembers that time:

On football pitches, you could see only men: women were at home cooking (Petra Landers).

Luckily, the fear of discrimination and societal constraints never prevented Petra from trying to enter the footballing world. It was a friend of hers who encouraged her to play for Bergisch Gladbach: when the coach saw her playing, he was amazed by her talent and decided to take her to the team. Nevertheless, it was not an easy game: her boss tried to stop her from representing Germany for the European championship in 1989, but she made clear that she was ready to quit her job to be free to go her own way. In the end, her determination made him change his mind and he eventually supported her decision!

From Europe to Africa

After contributing to the rise of women’s football first in Germany and then in Europe, Petra decided to turn to Africa, where she is now training young girls. When she traveled there for the first time in 2014, Africa was obviously new to her, but seeing children playing football in the villages reminded her of her childhood and a strong empathetic feeling grew inside of her. “It was a feeling I got, I can’t describe it, it was amazing”. Watching those kids playing, she could see herself growing up and working hard to become a professional player. Petra is a source of inspiration for those kids: she does not only embody an example to follow, but she also gives them the hope to think that one day, they can become footballers or coaches too.

You can’t imagine what areas I visited. We are now trying to get those children who can’t go to school. There are so many girls that are working at home, they have to do the household, they have to work, they don’t have the money to go to school. They don’t really have a childhood. We want to give them this chance (Petra Landers).

In 2017, Petra Landers was part of an important awareness program in which a world record was challenged – the women’s team that played on the highest level on the Kilimanjaro. When asked whether she was willing to join, Petra immediately answered yes. She started to train nearly every day, again after many years. They had to climb and walk a lot, and not always in great conditions

The last night we went up to the mountain, it was -20 degrees, it was so cold. After one hour and a half, our drinks were already frozen, and it was dark and we were walking as fast as snails. The oxygen was getting thinner and thinner. It was hard to breathe, but if you have a goal, you try to give everything until you can.

We wanted to empower all the women and girls all over the world. We wanted to give a sign: if you set a goal, you can get everything, you can do everything. It’s true (Petra Landers).

Africa opened Petra’s eyes to a completely different reality, and after changing the faith of women’s football, she wanted to change the life of those African kids. Her next goal is to have her own football school in Ghana.

I want to move to Ghana, but not for talent, I’m not looking for talent. I want to give the children living outside the village a chance. They don’t have the chance to join projects because it’s too far away. They don’t have shoes to walk or run for so long. They are playing barefooted but they are playing with bright eyes. There are so many children who don’t have this chance and I want to give them one (Petra Landers).

Petra’s words opened the doors to a different kind of conversation we should have in current society, where the European situation is rather different: football is often a matter of cups and medals, and football museums end up being places of celebrations rather than an objective look at football history and source of reflection.

Find out more

This article first appeared on the website of our partner EuroClio, where you can find more articles related to Football and Education. We also dedicated a Football Life to Petra Landers.

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—————————       A personal perspective on female football heritage      —————————
This article is the result of a webinar series from EuroClio which tackled football and social issues to explore how football history and society intertwine.
Article Tags:   20th century  |   diversity  |   education  |   every-day life  |   gender history

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