We had a long overdue catch-up with former Arsenal and England forward, Lianne Sanderson...
...who after two seasons in the U.S. in the WPS is currently playing pro for Espanol in the Spanish League. As well as kicking ass on the field, Lianne and her team mate and partner in the newly founded JoLi Academy, Joanna Lohman, are dreaming big and looking to kickstart a better future for football-loving girls in India too.
SK: You have been playing for Espanol since the WPS season finished (where you were playing with the Philadelphia Independence) and you had a pretty good win at the weekend, yeah?
Lianne: Yeah we were really good, it was probably our best team performance so far. We beat Rayo Vallecano 4-0, who Arsenal played in the Champions league recently. It’s funny because there’s a big rivalry between the teams. Rayo beat Espanol in the final of 2-1 last season, which was how Rayo qualified for Europe. This was the first time they had played them since that game and so, with such a strong rivalry, everyone was on it and everyone stepped up their game.
Espanol also have a big rivalry with Barcelona, who are one of the other better sides. They really hate each other! We play them on the 17th December. we will hopefully play in a stadium at our training field, on grass, unlike quite a few of the other clubs in the league and there’s quite a lot of publicity – it’s quite a big thing, so we’re really looking forward to that.
Attendances are like in England, in that they are up and down depending on the fixture and publicity. Some games there can be nobody there and others you can get a good crowd of a couple of hundred.
SK: How did you end up in Spain?
Lianne (pictured celebrating a last minute winner for Philadelphia): Veronica Boquete, who was mine and Jo’s [Joanna Lohman] team mate in Philadelphia [Independence], had a TV crew come out to film a documentary on her. Espanyol is her club in Spain and it was kind of through her that we were put into contact with the people at the club. They liked us as players and we both felt that 6 months off in the off season from the WPS was too long to take off – we were actually in the process of arranging a team in Brazil to go and train with - and then Patricia Coma and her boyfriend, who were part of the film crew, got involved and helped negotiate our move out here.
SK: Where are you living, are you both playing as full ‘pro’s?
Lianne: We’re not getting paid much but we do get paid. We have an apartment just 15 minutes outside of the city and so we have been doing lots of exploring and our team mates and the people here are really nice. We’ve found it pretty easy to understand the language, when doing drills and stuff in practice.
SK: What is the standard of play in the league like?
Lianne: That’s probably the only thing that is frustrating as it’s not that competitive. Like the Premier League was in England before the WSL, there are 3-4 competitive teams and then there is a big gap, so against other teams we’re winning more easily. Like when Arsenal would play games in the FA Cup and be winning 12-0 and stuff. Which is not that great.
SK: Are you both enjoying it then?
Jo: I think whenever you move to a new country it takes time to adapt to the culture and the way of life. Yes, there are times when we get frustrated but we have really come to enjoy both the city and our new club. Most of the girls on our team either have to go to school or work a job during the day and so for them, it is difficult to focus purely on the game. It has to be more of a passion or hobby. We, on the other hand, are lucky enough to get to do this for a living. We could play soccer all day long. So, there are differences but on the whole, I am very happy living and playing in Spain.
Lianne: I think that’s the biggest thing. I left England and moved to America and learned how to train with that intensity, I have learned better habits and I’m ten times the player I was because of all that. Because most of our team mates here at Espanol are studying or working, we don’t train or play until 10pm sometimes. Studying to be a doctor is more important than their football, playing is not their only main priority. We still train five times a week but after two years in the U.S., training every day, most days with two sessions, it’s hard being here having to wait around all day for practice between 9:30-11:30pm! I’ve got an American mentality now and I’m used to having everything in place for you. I know I’m fortunate to have had that opportunity but I also can’t say I have not improved as a result of that. I would encourage anyone to go to America, if they got the chance. When younger players email me, asking advice, I tell them, ‘The first opportunity you get, go to America.’Having said that I am enjoying it here,its a new experience and i am learning a lot about myself as a player and personally.No everyone has the opportunity to live next to a beach in Spain,so we are very lucky.
SK: What are your plans for next season?
Lianne: We are waiting to see what happens with the WPS. It appears that they have one week or so to find a 6th team. The fans of the league are amazing and so many people are offering to donate to keep the league going but someone needs to invest $2-3 million, not just bits here and there. To be honest, we don’t know a great deal and aren’t sure exactly what we can and can’t say and being over here, we are relying on social media like everyone else, to discover what is happening.
SK: It’s been a year or so since you, Lianne, decided you didn’t want to be considered for England selection for the foreseeable future. Any regrets?
Lianne: It was with pride I wore the England shirt and it was an honour every time I played for my country. I still want the girls to do well and many are still very good friends of mine but I don’t regret it. I wasn’t happy and felt down. It was an emotional decision and hard to make but I’m happier for it. The only thing is that I obviously won’t be considered for the GB team for the Olympics. So, I’ve not regretted it but I wouldn’t rule out playing for England again, in the future.
SK: We notice you have been ploughing your energies into a pretty exciting project, tell us about the JoLi Academy, how did it come about?
Jo (in action for the Independence, below): Well, my brother works in the U.S. State Department as a Vice Consulate, he has been based in Chennai and India is a country that I really want to go to. Lianne’s academies have been a great success in England we are both passionate about coaching the game and growing the game for women. Soccer in India is largely a middle class sport, although they don’t believe that players can study AND play. Most of the best players are out in rural areas and villages and so this seemed to be a great opportunity to help raise issues of equality and progress for girls and women.
Sunil Gulati, Head of US Soccer Federation, is a friend of mine and using his and mine and other networks, we managed to explain our ambitions and contact the right people and (with a lot of hard work from a lot of great people) it has snowballed from there. We connected with NGOs in India, like YUWA, who work out in Jarkhand, and decided that in youth development lay the best way to make a profound impact on the lives of young women.
From day one, we’ve found everyone to be very responsive - people keep saying that this is ‘just India’. It’s almost emotional how positive and responsive people have been and they believe that our presence would be a powerful thing. . India is like any other country, when it comes to football, the women always come in second but this will be the first time that the Indian Football Federation will have collaborated with an NGO and we hope that the national team will come to Jarkhand too.
So, we will live in the village with the people, eat with the people. It’s going to be very interesting and has taken a lot of the last 4 months to plan and put together, there was so much to be done. Twitter has been very helpful and so many people have helped us, they’re working for us for nothing because what we’re planning to do is not cheap. We’ve had to do a lot of fundraising. We have an online auction, which a lot of people have donated items towards, through which we we’re hoping to raise quite a lot of money.
We have to organise a shipment of equipment to India, all of which will be going to the girls. We will have a film crew with us to make a short documentary film which will hopefully make an appearance at a film festival, sometime in the future.
SK: When do you go?
Lianne: Our flights have been booked for months, we fly on January 4th and return on 1st Feb. It’s a lot of responsibility and there’s lots riding on this, so many people have helped us out and done work for us for free, acting as interns almost. Long term, our goal will be to employ people but until then so much stuff has been done by people helping out, like designing our logo. It’s overwhelming. We have such great fans, such a strong following in the U.S.
SK: So this is a long term venture, with long term plans and hopes of a real legacy?
Lianne: Yeah, we have already had offers to go to other countries. Bahrain, Grenada, South America but we are looking to go to countries that are underprivileged. For now though, we are starting with India and we aim to do it properly, to learn and build on it, before we look to do it in other countries.
We also want to give the girls in India a better future, so one of our other long term goals is to help them perhaps gain scholarships in America. We just want to help, basically.
SK: Sounds great. But first you have a game this weekend! Who is it against?
Lianne: We play on Sunday against Levante, one of the better teams.
SK: Well, thanks and good luck with both!
MORE ABOUT THE JOLI ACADEMY, THEIR AIMS AND HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED:
JoLi Academy is founded by Joanna Lohman & Lianne Sanderson, two professional footballers currently playing in Spain.
Joanna and Lianne’s aim is to change the trajectory of the lives of young women around the world - through football. Their first stop is in India-- January 2012. Here JoLi Academy will share its gained experience with the All Indian Football Federation and an incredible NGO, YUWA (www.yuwa-india.org). JoLi intends to supplement the training and development of these young female players by spending 10 days with them in Jharkhand, one of the poorest, least literate and most lawless regions in India. The ultimate goal is to mentor the girls to increase their chances to secure a more hopeful future: English studies, nutritional recommendations, and education opportunities both domestically and internationally.
The JoLi Academy, India 2012, will mark the first time that an NGO is working directly with the Indian Women’s National Team. This historic collaboration will have implications for years to come and will better propel India to seriously make a run at future Women’s World Cups.
The Yuwa Girls play football with virtually no funding on a borrowed patch of field just like the great players of the world did when they were children - Messi, Rooney, and Marta.
In India's top source state for human trafficking, teamwork is also a powerful force to combat the three primary causes of a young woman's vulnerability: few opportunities, gender inequality, and lack of confidence. In Yuwa, a girl gains confidence to challenge the social script of gender inequality, and is introduced to opportunities she might not have dared consider for herself. The idea is to develop an atmosphere in villages which creates a sense of belonging, that builds a girl up, and that makes parents aware of a girl’s rights and value.
This is also about Joanna Lohman & Lianne Sanderson’s travel to a foreign country in an effort to empower adolescent girls in the developing world. By investing in sustainable projects that support young girls, these two professional women footballers, hope to help young Indian women change the trajectory of their lives.
In order for this all to happen JoLi Academy needs a strong base of support, something they are asking the women’s footie community to support. How can you do this? How you can help JoLi Academy:
1. Donate Funds at www.joliacademy.myevent.com
Additional Funds used for documentary, shipment of goods, travel expenses, and most importantly overall development of JoLi Academy and its mission.
2. Bid for your favourite things in the official JoLi Academy Auction: JoLi Academy has been overwhelmed by the support of their colleagues/teammates/friends and is hence holding an auction of donated signed paraphenalia on their websitewww.joliacademy.myevent.com. Please check it out and bid on your favourite things from Caroline Seger ,Amy Rodriguez,The entire US Womens National Team,and much much more. You can even bid on dinner with Lianne and Joanna, in London. So many options, see for yourself. The Auction starts this Sunday, December 11th at 8:00pm EST.
Check out our FB page: JoLi Academy: www.facebook.com/JoLiAcademy
Great YUWA video that will bring you to tears: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2m9TIQNGus
They’d love to hear your thoughts - This is their passion – so get in touch with the girls who are "Kicking Through the Wall"
SHE KICKS - the online community for women's football