“I never made a living from football, but I gave everything to play”

The Spanish team, in 1972. Victoria Hernández is standing, fourth from the right.

Megan Rapinoe, captain of the United States women’s soccer team and a world icon of feminism, has demanded on many occasions a salary equalization with her male colleagues: “Many women can understand the feeling of negotiating knowing that there will not be equal pay” . The Dutch forward Lieke Martens, from Barcelona, ​​is the player who earns the most in the League, 250,000 euros per year, far from the cache of men. But there was a time not so distant when the idea of ​​a woman getting paid to play soccer was nothing more than a fantasy.

Victoria Hernández (Madrid, 62 years old) was the one who broke that glass ceiling to sign the first contract of a footballer in Spain, with the Madrid club Olímpico de Villaverde. It was her father, a football fan, who convinced promoter Rafael Muga so that the 12-year-old girl would become the first professional player in Spain, on August 2, 1971. The document stipulated a payment of 4,000 pesetas for the signature and 250 for each game played.

This Madrid woman with a wide face and deep gaze who defeated machismo 50 years ago is today a health worker in a hospital facing the coronavirus. After some doubts about whether to take off the mask (she is vaccinated but “you never know”), she begins to relate how her beginnings were. “In those days I did not know what a contract was and for a 12-year-old girl, 250 pesetas was a world,” she recalls sitting on the sofa of her house in the Villaverde neighborhood, south of Madrid. “What I wanted was to play soccer, my father and Rafael were the ones who were in charge of those issues and I focused on what I was passionate about. I can tell you that no matter what he earned, we did not cover the expenses of travel, hotels and all that. We had to pay it ourselves because the support of the institutions was nil. I never made a living from football, but I gave everything to play ”.

The articles that appeared in the press about women’s football were mocking and macho, instigated by institutions that did not see favorably that a woman could earn a living from sport. The Federation itself showed its rejection. The president was Jose Luis Pérez-Payá. “I’m not against women’s football, but I don’t like it either. I don’t see it as very feminine from an aesthetic point of view. Women in t-shirts and pants are not very favored, any regional costume would suit them better ”, he said. “There are many other sports that are more advisable for them. Due to the constitution of Spanish women, in which we must also look for aesthetics, football does not suit our physical condition ”, stated Alicia Lage, central councilor for Physical Education of the Women’s Section.

A few months before the signing of Victoria’s contract, the first women’s soccer match, organized by Muga, was played in Spain. The Federation tried to prevent it by all means and forced the referee to go out in a tracksuit instead of with the official equipment. The promoter ended up declaring to the police.

But Muga was never intimidated and set out to form the first Spanish women’s team. “The players of this country owe everything to Rafa, especially those who can live from this today. Without him we could not be where we are now ”, Victoria said today. That team, not recognized by the Federation, debuted with a series of matches against Italy and Portugal between February 71 and December 72.

Victoria, who played in various positions, was 13 years old when she packed her bags to go to Italy for the first concentration of a Spanish women’s team. As it was not a team recognized by the Federation, they could not wear the shield on the shirt, but for the player that did not matter, because they all felt they were representatives of their country. “In Italy they were 10 years ahead. They were bigger, they were more prepared and they swept us away. They had been professionals for a long time, living off football. We were practically a group of friends who went on a trip ”, she relives with a laugh.

Victoria had been combining sports with various jobs since she was 16 years old, when she left school, aware that in Spain it was impossible to support herself with the salary of a player. “There were days when I came home from training at eleven at night and I didn’t even have dinner to go to bed because the next day I had to wake up at six to go to work,” says Victoria, “but work was what gave me the possibility to do what I liked the most. I made time from wherever I was and it cost me nothing. We have done real atrocities for how young we were to be able to play ”.

It was then that the big question was posed: “Can I live on this?” Her teammate Conchi Amancio, who signed a contract a few days after her, had signed for an Italian team, Gamma 3 Padova, which paid much more than any Spanish club. A few weeks later, the Stade de Reims knocked on the Hernández’s door to offer them a million pesetas to take over Victoria’s services. Fifty years later, in the living room of that very house, I wish I could go back in time. “I couldn’t go alone because I was very young and my brother was going to accompany me at first. But in the end, we decided that the best thing was for me to stay in Spain “, he remembers with his eyes on the ground, although the smile returns when he recalls the occasions that he has left the shoulders of the stadium:” In the neighborhood everyone loved us very much and Some game that I scored several goals took me on my shoulders. I was very ashamed, but at the same time very satisfying ”.

In 1980, the Federation formed the first official selection. Victoria and her partner Elizabet Sánchez Rubio were the only survivors of that unrecognized team of the seventies who managed to wear the official jersey as well. “We went from training in a park to training for real, with schedules, diets …”, he says.

Victoria continued to play professionally until she was 39 years old, combining her passion with work. But she did not hang up her boots for good until 10 years later, always interested in any tournament that could be organized in the neighborhood. “Football is in my veins. I follow all the boys and girls games. I love the team and I think we deserved to pass the USA in the last World Cup. Although I am from Madrid, I hope that the women’s Barcelona reaches the final of the Champions League to continue making history ”.

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