After a short spell in Kosovo with WFC Hajvalia, Audrey Baldwin is back in action as she now finds herself in Israel, with Premier League side Maccabi Kishronot Hadera. Our globe-trotting goalkeeper pens her first column to us from her new home.

 

Coming from Kosovo, I honestly had no idea what to expect from Israel.

Another country that people are afraid of. Another country where women’s football is not well known.

First things first, it seems to be exceptionally safe. I have never felt threatened or uncomfortable since being here. I have walked alone in town, taken the train to other cities, even late at night (Sorry mom) and have not once felt like I was unsafe. The girls were very welcoming and immediately brought me in to their homes to celebrate the holidays. Talking with them more and more I was excited to get started and see if their “talk matched their walk.”

Since I had just been in the Kosovo situation, I feel like I was initially impressed by every little thing. Every foreigner (four) has their own bedroom. I was given a gym membership to a very nice facility right next to the apartment. The girls drive us to practice even though the field is five minutes walking. The coach speaks English and is 100% involved in every second of practice. We have a little area next to one the fields for a conditioning circuit that we used a of couple times the first week. This included TRX, medicine balls, jump ropes, stability balls, hurdles, etc. We had fitness tests so the coach could tell us exactly what we needed to work on.

The training schedule isn’t exactly ideal, but the coaches and the girls work, so there is limited time to get as many people as possible to the trainings. The 6am trainings are not the best for anyone, but such is life in the world of women’s football. Women players and their staff aren’t paid enough most of the time to only play or coach.

This is clearly a developing league, but I was still shocked at the response of my signing here.

I have had numerous Israelis come up to me asking me the same things.

“Why did you come here? Do you study? How old are you? Do you work? Only football? But Why? You are from America…Are you Jewish?”

They can’t grasp their minds around the idea that I would come here just to play football. They also couldn’t understand how I was so old (not sure if that is a compliment on my looks and attitude or a dig at where I’m at in life haha). In fact, many of them did not even know a women’s league existed!!! How crazy is that?! I am not the first foreigner to sign here or even in this league, but maybe I am the first around here to put myself out there, training with the boys, and not shying away from the questions people have. I have met people in Tiberias, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, and even right here in Hadera that had no idea there was a women’s league.

Since the league is not well known, the women are also treated much differently. The boys that use the same practice field as us have their own locker rooms and storage closets filled with extra training tools, like rebound nets, bosu balls, medicine balls, hurdles, mannequins, etc. They have conditioning coaches that come in to work with them… then there is us. We have a room with chairs, balls, cones, and a couple of other things.

The men’s team, which was just promoted to 2nd division, has a full stadium. The field is good, the lights are bright, there are stands for fans to come sit, locker rooms just for them, offices, everything. Now please tell me why they have these things and they aren’t even in the top league like the women? We are struggling now to find good practice fields because ours needs to be seeded, so the men have been so kind as to allow us sometimes to come on the pitch at 6am or 8pm for training. How could we ever thank them for their generosity?

Okay… I’m not saying the men do not deserve these SIMPLE things to be professional, but the women’s team has professionals, too. I actually haven’t even met or seen the men’s team. We are so separated.

Don’t you think it would be smart for the women and the men to come together to help grow both sides? In Iceland, the men and women shared pretty much everything. Yes, the men have a larger following, but the women work just as hard on and off the pitch to do the club proud. We are all representing the same city/area… so give us the tools to make it proud just like the men. Most countries are a LONG way from equality between men and women’s football, but to have coaches and players in your same club not even know there is a women’s side is quite ridiculous.

Trust me… I plan to make it known the women of Hadera are here! I’m eager to see how the rest of this experience pans out. Stay tuned.