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Dear seven-year-old Sara,
I am writing to let you know that you are going to become someone that you never thought you could be.
Now, you are probably a little confused. I can picture you sitting there holding your plastic Super Tele football under your arm — the one that Granddad gave you with the Batman print all over it.
First of all, let me tell you, that print is gonna get so faded. Batman is gonna disappear. The Dark Knight is no match for you and your need to play with that ball at all times haha!
That little ball is coming everywhere with you. Basically, the only time you’ll part with it is when you are swimming down at Topolini, Barcola or Miramare Castle.
You really are very lucky to grow up in such a beautiful part of the world, by the way.
In this beautiful place, football will become your greatest joy. I know it already is, but trust me, you don’t know just how important it is going to become.
Your family will see this in you.
I’ve learned that not all families are like yours. Not every family in 1990s Italy wants a girl who plays football — trust me on that, too. But yours does. They are happy for you. Granddad will drive you all over Trieste to play. Grandma will come to support you, too.
And Mum? Eh, you know Mum. She’ll throw herself into this new little community.
I know Dad has already gone back to his country. Maybe one day in the future you’ll see him and reconnect. Maybe you’ll find out more about your roots. But right now, you have so many great people around you: Mum, her Croatian family, aunts, uncles, grandparents, your teammates, coaches, teachers, all the people from the neighbourhood. Good people.
Promise me you’ll keep learning and take something from everyone you meet.
You know what the best thing is about your family, though? No matter how invested in football you get, or where it looks like your passion for the game might take you, they’ll never put pressure on you to do better. And they’ll also never let you get carried away.
Sara lost 8–0? Va bene….
Sara won the Scudetto? Bene….
Hahaha. Your feet will always be firmly on the ground.
The first football team you join will be mixed. I say mixed ... but only because you are there. The only girl. But that won’t matter. The only traumatic bit will come when you have to move to an all-girl team at the age of 12 and leave behind your teammates. Just go with it. I promise you’ll make loads of wonderful new friends. :)
And you know what? You’ll learn new things about football, too.
You’ll learn that this football thing is not just a hobby, it is a lifelong love affair. It is freedom. It is joy.
There’ll be games where you’ll learn that you can be losing a whole bunch to nil but when you score it can still feel like you’ve just won the Champions League final.
No matter where you play, make sure you keep playing the same way as when you are kicking the print off the Batman Super Tele.
I know you’ve never dreamed that football could be anything more than just fun. That this could be a job. Your job. How could you? When you turn on the TV, your football doesn’t exist.
O.K. I get that, but just go with me here because next comes the unbelievable part.
First, you’ll get called to play for your region, Trieste, and then for the junior levels of the national team.
How do you play football and earn a living?- Sara Gama
This whole world will open up — one you didn’t know existed but had always been there under the surface.
When you join Tavagnacco, your first club in Serie A, they are going to offer you the grand total of 100 euros a month for expenses.
YOU WILL BE PAID TO PLAY FOOTBALL. HAHAHA.
Even then, with that money in your hand, it won’t seem real.
Obviously, even as a young girl, I know you know that 100 euros is not enough to live on and the novelty of the money will wear off. Sooner rather than later you’ll have to make tough decisions about whether to stay in Trieste or move away from your family.
How do you play football and earn a living?
I’m sorry that these are the questions that you and all female footballers of your generation have to ask themselves.
But I promise you, it won’t be like this for much longer. And you are going to be a part of the change.
I want to tell you about another moment when you are going to really learn something about yourself, about who you are and who you are going to be.
It’ll happen when you get called up for the Italy under-17s in 2005 — the first time that age category has been created for women in Italy — and you go to a three-day camp with all the other girls.
You’ll see how nervous everyone else looks. This is a big deal. The first girls of this age to represent Italy. You’ll be nervous, too, but there will come a moment when the coach will gather everyone around and ask for a volunteer to be team captain.
You’ll watch as a few other players nervously look around before raising their hands.
You’ll feel shy but then you’ll hear a voice inside you.
You’ll listen to it.
You’ll raise your hand.
In the end, you won’t get the captain’s armband right away. It’ll go to the oldest player. It turns out the coach had only asked for a volunteer as a test of everyone’s mentality under pressure!
They will learn something that day about Sara Gama, but more importantly, so will you.
It makes me smile now. That moment will set a standard for your career. You’ll take this attitude with you everywhere you go.
In the U.S., you’ll get your first glimpse of the future, of what women’s football could be. Should be.
You’ll see the way they run, the way they train, the standards, the investment, the facilities. You’ll play alongside incredible players like Alex Morgan, Christen Press, who will become stars of the USWNT, and also Tuija Hyyrynen, who you will join up with again for another adventure.
You’ll see the difference from Italy.
You’ll realise that there are levels to this game.
The same will happen at Paris Saint-Germain. In France, they train every day, when you are used to only three times a week!
I wish I could tell you that you’ll adapt and everything will work out perfectly in France, but I’m sorry to say that there will be injuries and other bad moments that will challenge you. You’ll learn from those experiences.
The crazy thing is that even when you’re really struggling to return to fitness, the others on the national team still won’t be able to keep up with how fast you’re able to run in training. That’s how high the standards are abroad.
You’ll eventually leave PSG — after reaching a Champions League final — and return to Italy. People will be surprised that you came back. And since you’ve seen the way things can be you won't be able to be silent about it anymore. You’ll need to raise your hand. It’s who you are.
By now, it’s 2015 and even your teammates in Italy have got to the point where they can no longer accept the indifference to the way we are treated in our sport.
You won’t be able to just accept that female footballers can only have one-year contracts.
Or that, because of a lack of resources, clubs can’t pay players what they are owed.
Or that there is such a general lack of professionalism.
You’ll raise all these points and more with the players’ association, the Italian FA and many others.
You’ll fight when you have to.
When you play a match for Brescia against Verona, you and your teammates will hang a banner that says:
SOME POINTS ARE WORTH MORE THAN THE ONES IN THE TABLE.
You and your teammates will spray paint those letters by hand, Sara. And you will be united in the fight for your rights.
But no one will listen to you.
For this reason, you’ll even help organise a players’ strike among all the teams in Serie A, when the authorities still drag their feet.
It might seem crazy to the girl who would do anything to play in any game at any time to choose not to play, but you will know what is right.
It’ll be unpleasant at times.
But the fight for dignity and equality is far more important than any one match.
I’m writing to you from 2022, as the European Championships are just getting underway, and I’m happy to tell you that things are different now.
The moment you fully realise just how far you’ve come will be during the 2019 World Cup in France.
(Spoiler alert.) You won’t win, but you’ll play your heart out to reach the quarterfinals — the furthest of any country with an amatuer domestic league. You’ll feel the beauty of that tournament and a new love and appreciation from the public and the media.
You and your teammates will even be invited by President Sergio Mattarella to the Quirinale to celebrate your journey.
We will finally get the recognition of our country.
We will feel visible.
Trust me, that will mean everything.
Oh, and I am proud to tell you that on July 1, 2022, women’s football will become fully professional. But let me also stress that this is not the end. It is the start. The start of a new world of possibilities and growth for our sport.
This summer, I know that, as a team, we will give our best to entertain and hopefully inspire the next generation of girls clutching their Super Teles.
This is the role you will play. I hope you can see that now. You will be a big player on the pitch but you'll be even more important off it.
And for that, dear Sara, I am so proud.