A new book by Gwendolyn Oxenham titled Under the Lights and In the Dark: Untold Stories of Women’s Soccer, tells some unknown stories of female professional soccer players. If it’s anything like the excerpt, it is going to be a harrowing and tough read.
Sports Illustrated posted an except of the story of American player Danielle Foxhoven. After graduating from college early to get into the Women’s Professional Soccer league, the league folded a couple weeks before she was set to begin play and every player was out of a job. With hundreds of players looking to play overseas, Oxenham was one of them and eventually got on a team in Russia.
Russian team FC Energy Voronezh was one of the best Russian women’s teams and offered Foxhoven what is deemed good money for a women’s soccer player ($3,000/month). It didn’t take long that she was walking into a living hell.
Many of Foxhoven’s teammates immediately didn’t want anything to do with her. And then just after her second day as a player, Foxhoven’s manager screamed at her in Russian, picked her up by the earlobe and slapped her because she was sitting on the ground. His belief was that because the ground was cold, it would hurt Foxhoven’s reproductive organs and lower the chances of fertility. Foxhoven stood up for herself that time, telling her English/Russian translator to never do it again.
Foxhoven learned that the team is somehow connected to the Russian mafia but they aren’t told much. The players know that the team has one of the largest budgets in women’s soccer but no one shows up to games, assuming it’s some sort of money laundering scheme.
Even Foxhoven’s translator Tanya seemed uncomfortable with translating some things from her manager. Even without Tanya’s help, they could tell that the manager, Ivan Vasilievich Saenko called the players “whores” all the time. In one notable exchange, Tanya translated what Vasilich said to Foxhoven, “He says you’d make better whores than you do soccer players.” And, “It would be a better sport if you all played naked.”
If that wasn’t bad enough, it’s detailed that Foxhoven and the other players were forced to take pills only referred to as “vitamins” even though they didn’t know what they were. When they asked what they were ingesting, Vasilich refused to say and after finding out they weren’t taking their “vitamins,” Vasilich stood next to them to make sure they ingested the 20 or so pills every day. Vasilich also revealed that she was summoned to Vasilich’s office one time to lay on a table while a trainer injected her in the rear end with “vitamins.”
Foxhoven only signed a five month contract and after that was over, she came back to the United States. A drug test back in the States revealed that Foxhoven was on three types of anabolic steroids. Foxhoven would score six goals in nine matches in Russia but that seems trivial compared to what she went through. Next year, the NWSL was formed and Foxhoven signed with the Portland Thorns. That season, Foxhoven was the starting #9 and won the first NWSL Championship. Foxhoven would be traded to Seattle for a couple seasons and stopped playing at the age of 26. Foxhoven is now a head coach of the Purdue University Northwest women’s soccer team.
That’s just one story that is detailed in Oxenham’s book. While some situations seem completely terrible and horrific, it will give you a deeper appreciation of what some people will go through to live out their dream of being a pro soccer player. In the book, Portland Thorns and USWNT player Allie Long trains in an underground men’s league in NYC. England National Team player Fara Williams was at one time homeless and hid that from her teammates. And Danish National Team player Nadia Nadim, became a pro after Nadim and her family escaped from the Taliban. In the meantime, Oxenham shares her own story of playing in Brazil by the team having to hitchhike to practice.