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Look, it sucks.
I’m not gonna lie.
I was one of the 15 players who refused to play for Spain last year. We had been unhappy with the level of professionalism for a while, and one day we sent emails to the federation saying that until things changed, we were out. After a while a few of the players came back into the team, and those who did not, like me, were left outside … and watched our teammates win the World Cup.
In my head, I had stood up for what was right.
But I remember everyone telling me that I was an absolute idiot.
“You ruined your career.”
“God, how stupid you are!”
These people were not haters and Internet trolls. They knew me, and they said that I had to look out for myself.
I hate to admit it, but they were right. That is one of the lessons I’ve learnt from all of this:
No one will put their hand in the fire for you.
Those emails were sent for a reason.
Things had been brewing for years, and the defeat to England at the Euros was the final drop. I don’t want to list all the changes we asked for, but I’ll give you two examples of things that were not normal. Keep in mind that this was daily life at one of the best national teams on the planet.
The training sessions were always the same. Always. Every day. I swear to God, I had done the same drills since I was with the U17s. I understand the value of repetition, but I believe professional players need some kind of variation, especially after seven or eight years doing exactly the same.
There was a strict control every night at bedtime. If you are leading a youth team, I understand that it makes sense to check that everyone is in their room at a certain time. But when you do this with adult professional women, they are going to be shocked. Also, we almost never had the day to ourselves. If we had free time, it was supervised. It was like they were afraid of what we might do, as if they doubted how professional we really were.
I mean, we know what’s best for us. We weren’t girls on a school trip.
And sure, it could have been worse. We all had our crazy stories. When I had started out at Oviedo in the Spanish top division, we trained on half a pitch. Type: AstroTurf! We stored the balls in shopping carts. We would drive 14 hours by bus to play games, players getting up from our seats with swollen feet … play on Sunday, get back on the bus and come home at three in the morning. Unpaid. And the TV coverage?? Man, we were playing on Internet streams that not even our mothers could figure out how to watch!
But that was 10 years ago. In women’s football, that is the Stone Age. This was in 2022, and we were all professionals.
So we sent those emails. We also had support from Irene Paredes, Alexia Putellas and Jenni Hermoso, so we were 15 plus three.
Unfortunately, the group cracked.
It was complicated. A lot of things happened behind the scenes. If you ask me why we were divided, I think the reason was the individual meetings.
The federation called us in one by one, but it was three of them and one of us: Two coaches and a psychologist versus one player. Even though they knew it was all about the group, and nothing personal. They would ask me things like, “What is it that you don’t like?” It seemed like they wanted to remove all the nuance, to paint everything black and white. They even said: “You’re either in my boat or not.”
It was really hard. You sit there all alone, nobody to talk to, no teammates to ask for advice, and you know that, in the end, they are the ones who control your future on the team. They crank up the pressure and before you know it, you have climbed back on board.
In February and March, the first players returned.
Our collective agreement was broken. There was so much uncertainty. Once someone had stepped forward, you didn’t know who might be next. I don’t blame anyone for doing it, because I know how tough it was.
One day, I decided to call the coach.
I could barely believe I was doing it. I’m stubborn as hell, and just dialling the number took me ages.
Eventually, the call led me to talk to a woman from the federation. We met and talked about what had changed, and she said that they had been hurt by what had happened. In the end I made myself available for selection again, but at the next call-up, only a few of the 15 were back in.…
And I understand. But I had played for Spain since I was 15 years old, and I had played almost 40 games for the first team. It hurt. It would have hurt anyone.
So I went, OK, I’m done with this.
No more Spain.
No World Cup.
The worst part wasn’t the title. It wasn’t even the insults.
What made my heart sink was feeling that I had disappointed the people around me.
My parents and my brothers deserve at least as much credit as I do for my career. You have to understand, it’s not like I grew up next to La Masia. My home village is Pola del Pino, a tiny Asturian village in the north of Spain, and it didn’t even have a proper football pitch. I think the place looks the same now as before the sport was invented. No cafés, no bars, nothing. People from the cities won’t understand this, but when you live in the middle of nowhere, all you have to do is crazy s***.
I remember once my three brothers and I opened a gate so that cows invaded the entire neighbourhood.
We stole eggs from a chicken farm and threw them at people’s houses.
We messed around with a pony, and it got so angry that it bit my hand! I had to go to the hospital. Still got the scar!!
My family didn’t have much interest in football. Give my brothers a ball and they won’t even know how to kick it.
Did we have a team in the village? Hell, we barely had 11 people in the whole place. Seriously, today I think there are less than a hundred. I would force my brothers to play, or I would stay out from 6 p.m. to midnight kicking the ball against a wall next to our house. Of course I broke a few windows and flower pots, and you won’t believe the stuff the neighbours shouted at me.
When I was 13, I had a trial at Oviedo, nearly two hours away by bus on the old highway. I wanted to show how good a striker I was, and it seemed like fortune was on my side, because after just a few minutes I made this great run off the ball … and nobody was following me.
I couldn’t believe my luck. It was weird … but it was a hell of a run! I was like, “HEY! HEY! I’M ALONE! GIMME THE BALL!!!!”
Nobody else moved.
They stopped the game.
I was like, What are they doing??
And then someone shouted a word that I had never ever heard in my life.
“Lucía … you’re offside … BY 30 YARDS!”
I had only played football during school breaks, plus one year of futsal. The players must have been like, “Where the hell did they find her?”
What can I say? In Pola del Pino, we don’t do offside.
Somehow they still let me join, but those trips to Oviedo … Ufffffffff. Three times a week I would train and go with my brother Javi to private classes in math and English. The classes were on the way to Oviedo, so on those days my schedule looked something like this:
06:30 — Breakfast
14:00 — Finish school
17:00 — Take bus with Javi to private classes
18:30 — Take train to Oviedo for training
21:00 — Skip the shower, rush back to the train station
00:30 — Eat the dinner that Mum left in the microwave
Man, it was heavy. I also had to take care of my brother Alejandro. I’m one of four – we’re quadruplets! – but it was a dangerous birth, and Alejandro has a disability. As a family we did everything so that he would have a normal life, like taking him swimming and horse riding.
Looking back, I think all these things brought us closer together.
My family was so proud when I first played for Spain. We were more or less the same squad from the U17s and upwards, and we became a bunch of friends travelling the world together. I remember when I was new at the U19s, there was a big party where all the youth teams came together, and they put on the song by DJ Snake, Selena Gomez, Ozuna and Cardi B. We had a dance coordinator leading us, I was in the front row going nuts, and the video of our dance went viral.
(I love it.)
For me, there was a kind of innocence playing for those teams. With the seniors the pressure is huge, but as naive teenagers we were just having fun. Really, we were like one big family.
Then in 2018 I was called up to the senior squad, and at the 2019 World Cup I was 20 years old. When we played USA in the round of 16, I was so sure I was gonna start on the bench that I took a nap before kickoff, and not like an innocent siesta. I’m talking two hours of deep sleep, the kind where you wake up and you’ve forgotten where you are. So I go to the team meeting, and you have to remember that at this point Spain’s women have never played in the World Cup round of 16. The coach does his talk, everyone is getting pumped, and I’m sitting there with pillow marks on my face.
I check the list with the lineup … and I see something weird.
My name is there.
Is that a typo??
I wipe the sleep out of my eyes and check again. Still there.
Dammit Lucía, switch on for God’s sake!!!!
Man, it was really cool. We played well, too, and even though we didn’t win, my family was so proud of me. It had been such a hard road, and I don’t think any of us could have imagined this. I mean, seven years earlier I hadn’t heard about offside. And yet here I was. Here we were. Playing for Spain in the World Cup knockouts.
You see now what I mean?
When I quit Spain, I did not just give up the greatest honour in football for me.
I also sacrificed a magical moment for them.
As painful as it is to say, I actually handled my own disappointment well. I learned to value my club even more. When the World Cup came around, I didn’t check the schedule. I swear to you, I only caught parts of the final, and that was because they put it up on a screen in my gym.
Of course, it was so bittersweet. I was happy for my teammates, but I was also upset because I was missing out. I did not send that email to cause problems. I sent it because I wanted to win. I sent it for the next generation of girls coming up after us.
So yeah, I’m not gonna pretend that it didn’t hurt. When your teammates are turning into legends in front of your eyes, and you’re sitting there alone doing shoulder presses, it sucks.
But there was another moment from that summer that I’ll never forget. I was at home with my parents, and I think my mum was reading the paper or something.… She said, “Oh, look … Spain are playing today …”
I was like, Yes … and?
And she just said, “What a shame you’re not there.… ”
When I got called back up again, I was completely shocked.
Nobody could have predicted the stuff that happened right after the final. Honestly, it was difficult to watch. It’s a disgrace to behave like that for any person, let alone the president of the Spanish football federation. Thankfully, all the pressure from abroad helped to force through changes. We were not alone anymore.
This is what unity can do. If you want change, you have to stand together.
When the dust had settled, and the federation was about to call up the next squad, I really wondered what would happen. Even though some of the people responsible for the problems had gone, almost all the senior players had refused to be called up until there were further changes in the federation. But then live on the screen, the new coach, Montse Tomé, called me back again.
You know the drill: Goalkeepers first.
Defenders … midfielders … strikers.
As they announced the names, I was like, How can they do this?
And then, when there was one spot left to reveal …
“ … Lucía García … ”
After all that had happened, to now be called back into the team! It was such a weird situation. In a way it was the same that happened to Las 15, only that pretty much everyone had agreed they would not play, and now the stance was being threatened.
This time my mum was all over me.
“Darling, you’re going!!!”
I was like, “No! The group has decided.…”
She was like, “Yes, you are! Don’t be stupid!!”
We stuck together. And then it turned out that we had no choice. Our lawyer advised us that we were obliged to report to the squad, otherwise they could take away our sporting licence. It was so bizarre: 23 players who were forced to attend even though they didn’t want to play under circumstances like that. So we decided to go there and deal with it face to face.
We arrived at the airport in Valencia, and I’ve never seen so many cameras in my life. Our hotel was surrounded by a million people. We had meetings until three in the morning with coaches, officials and the government.
That was when the federation promised that they would make clear changes once and for all. Since then we have played six games. I’m relieved to say that things are beginning to improve. They have kept their word.
I have also learned that there are some things you cannot put a price on.
Your duty to the next generation of girls.
That is what we stood up for.