INTERVIEW-“Do not Sell yourself short of what you are worth”

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It is so refreshing to see Africa’s ex-international players take up positions in  soccer and excel at it. Countries such as Nigeria,Namibia,Kenya,Zimbabwe,South Africa among others have female coaches at the highest level of their women’s soccer program,a sign that women are gradually finding a place in this male dominated world of soccer but  there is room for more women in this rugged arena of women’s soccer.

A while back, I wrote about a female coach I chanced upon in Ghana,whose work i admired so much but lost track of over the years. Thankfully through my usual sleuthing,I found her and had a lengthy conversation with her,snippets of which i will share with you.

Africa Women’s : Coach Eunice,I hope you don’t mind me calling you Coach.Thank you so much for this opportunity.I have been following your career until you suddenly dropped off my radar. Can you tell me how it all started ?

Eunice Kitcher: I don’t mind you calling me coach but I prefer going by my first name. Where to start,well, i was a tomboy through and through, I first started out running around my neighborhood as the only female amongst the guys much to the chagrin of my parents.In fact, I used to sneak out to play soccer with the guys.It wasn’t all fun and games because I had to endure a lot of ridicule from the neighbors who couldn’t stand a female playing soccer.

My family were not accepting of my soccer escapades as i call it, you can imagine the scolding i got whenever i came home sweaty from playing soccer. My mother later had no choice but to accept my decision. However, i only played soccer when i had done all my chores and school work.Thankfully in the early ’80s the organizers of an annual soccer festival in the city i grew up in, decided to include women’s soccer in the program,of course the intent was for entertainment purposes but the impact was immense.

I was talked into participating in the games,which i did reluctantly because obviously,the girls in my neighborhood were not good players, actually most of them had never kicked a soccer ball before. We were able to come up with two teams and that was when i drew a lot of attention as a player.

AWF: I know you played for your country as well,how did that happen ?

EK: After playing in the end of year inter-sites competition as it was called,some other communities caught the women’s soccer bug and so women’s soccer teams were formed which led to the formation of the women’s soccer league.Then in 1991 the GFA called up the best in the nation to form the first national women’s soccer team. We played our first ever international game against Nigeria,it was a world cup qualifier  and we lost both legs.That’s a gist of how i first got to play for my country.

WSA: Now,to your career as a coach,how did you begin ?

EK: My soccer career was blighted by injuries one of which forced me to retire prematurely but before then,i used to train with a juvenile team when i was actively playing,you know, my coach at the time used to moon-light as the coach of this juvenile team and he was also my boss at work. We always discussed soccer,the technical and tactical aspect of the game. I always mapped out some game formations  and so on which we discussed and implemented. So when I retired, he suggested I go into coaching.I’m guessing he saw my potential as a coach and so he made me the coach of the under 14 lads for about a year and a half. Then I was approached by a rival club who later signed me to a lucrative deal. It was a huge deal because no youth club in Ghana at the time will hire a female coach let a lone sign them.  We went on to play the entire season unbeaten.

With time i was called by the national sports council to attend a beginner coaching course with two other players i played with in the national team, i then went for a CAF coaching course, a sports management course all  of which i was the only female participant.Back then there were no female soccer coaches let a lone a female coach managing a male team so I had a lot to prove to myself and to my male counterparts that i had what it takes to be a coach.Thankfully I excelled at all the courses,got my CAF certificate and later went on to work with the SOS Children’s Village football program in Ghana.

AWF: Did you encounter any hardships being a female in a male dominated field ?

EK: Yes i did. I encontered so much opposition at the hands of some of the old guards back then. As a coach of a male youth team,many wrote me off and never took me seriously.I heard lots of derogatory statements made whenever i was at a game or at practice with my boys,there were no opportunities coming my way however the few men who saw my potential supported me through it all and i owe them a ton of gratitude. Later on when news went round about my work, i gained a lot of respect.I owe much gratitude to  Chief Onigbinde my CAF coaching course instructor and,Dr. Owusu Ansah and good old Coach Sam Arday and Sam Okaitey  all of blessed memory, they were my good friends and mentors.May their souls rest in peace.They all motivated me in my quest of being the best that i can be.

AWF: I watched you a couple of times at training and at one of your games and to tell you the truth i was impressed and surprised. Why did you leave Ghana ?

EK: That’s a difficult question. I did not leave Ghana,Ghana left me.(laughs) Firstly, i had to further my education first of all so when the opportunity came for me to do so, i jumped at it. Secondly i left out of frustration and disappointment. You could say,i didn’t see any light at the end of the proverbial  tunnel  in terms of making a career in football at the time in Ghana. There were so many obstacles in my way,some said I was too young to coach,others said a female can never succeed in a male dominant field,the terrain was rough and the atmosphere back then was so toxic- there were lots of impediments. Don’t get me wrong, I did my best and worked hard at the colts level,something i really enjoyed doing however,i had to leave for the reasons i mentioned earlier.

AWF: Did you ever coach a women’s team ?

EK: Yes I did briefly. I coached the club i used to play for -Supreme Ladies FC  before i branched out to coach the U14 and U17 male youth teams of Tema Prisco Minis and Tema Hearts Babies respectively.

AWF: Lately we’ve seen ex-internationals at the helm of affairs as coaches at the national level and as policy makers in women’s soccer.Have you ever been approached by your country or have you ever been offered a job as a coach for your country’s national team ?

EK: Yes, I was contacted in 2003 after the world cup in the USA,unfortunately I had other engagements.

AWF: Many are disappointed by the downward spiral of the Black Queens looking back at their performance lately.As an ex-international what will you attribute the dwindling fortunes of the Black Queens to ?

EK: There are so many reasons why Ghana’s senior women’s national team is where it is today.One of which is the mismanagement of players which has seen talented and experienced players retiring prematurely after every major tournament..The national team lacks consistency and continuity and to further compound matters,the media doesn’t make it any easier for the players when they are scrutinized negatively.There was once a highly competitive league which prepared players for the national team and the league patronage back then could rival any of the premier league clubs in Ghana but that is no longer the case.

Players lack  the drive we used to have in our day,technical ineptitude is another problem coupled with some administrative  and logistical lapses among countless others. May be if the women’s national team is given an iota of the attention given the men’s and the perception of women’s football changes, the tide will surely turn.There is the need for a total re-examination of the approach of stakeholders in women’s soccer -perceptions towards the sport must change. Although I must say i am deeply saddened by depth to which the senior women’s national team of Ghana has sunk,all is not lost there is still a little glimmer of hope provided the right structures will be put in place. I hold nothing against the players.

There are too many administrative square pegs in round holes where women’s soccer is concerned. Back then,  Nigeria was the only country standing in the way of Ghana,today every country where women’s soccer is played has improved. There is the need for Ghana to realize how blessed they are and to appreciate the talented young women playing the sport by supporting them in every sense of the word. Administratively in my humble opinion,Ghana has failed her women footballers and that is why the future looks bleak. I still believe there is hope.

AWF : Now, the big question i’ll like to ask you is, will you consider managing the women’s national team if you are approached again ?

EK: (chuckles) Well, I haven’t given that a thought.My answer will depend on so many factors so i’ll have to leave it as that  i’m ready to offer a helping hand when asked.

WSA: I’ll still come back to this question (laughter)
I can see passion in your eyes as you talk about the women’s national team of Ghana and women’s football in general and that tells me you still have  a soft spot in your heart for the women’s program.Let’s talk a bit about your work handling young men.Why did you choose to coach males instead of females ?

EK: Like i said earlier,i got my feet wet coaching young men so it just felt right, but one other reason will be because the talent pool was deeper as compared to women and i could scout for the kind of players i wanted and then develop them to suit my philosophy, something that wasn’t easy to do with women back then.

WSA: On a scale of 1-10 how will you rate women’s soccer in  Africa today  with reference to player output, administrative/logistic  and technical support ?

EK: Our game has evolved so much but we still have a long way to go in all departments,but considering how little is available for women’s soccer  and how much success has come out of that, on a scale of 1-10 i will rate the women’s game at 6 with more room for improvement. Imagine what our women can do if given the same attention given our men.

AWF :Let’s focus our attention on the female coaches in the sport today with emphasis on Nigeria.Eucharia Uche made history by winning the AWCON as the first female coach ever to have done so.She led Nigeria to the world cup also as the first African female coach. Then comes Florence Omagbemi who also won the AWCON.Looking at their achievements,what’s your perception of Nigeria’s national team-the Super Falcons and the future of women’s football ?

EK:  I am happy for Eucharia Uche and Florence Omagbemi and do  respect them for their accomplishments especially having to work under constant scrutiny and under so much pressure.As  ex-internationals,they both obviously have had a feel of life as players and are well equipped with immeasurable knowledge about the terrain of women’s soccer. I believe Nigeria has what it takes to be world beaters. They have great players strewn all over Europe. Their youth teams are buzzing with talented players,their women’s league can be counted as one of the most competitive on the continent.,they have ex-internationals doing great work in soccer,they have so much going for them but, much needs to improve to get Nigeria to the top at the world stage.

There is so much potential there but the attention given them in terms of financial,logistic support etc must improve. I was saddened to see players in  the streets with placards just to demand what is rightfully due them. With Ruth David and Aisha Falode at the fore front, I am hopeful. I trust they will do their uttermost best for the good of our sport. The future of Nigerian women’s football looks really good. On the continent much more needs to be done to elevate our game so as to compete with the best for global laurels. Most conversations these days are centered on the lack of sponsorship for African women’s football which is absolutely true but to draw sponsors in, we need to attractively package our sport. We need to help ourselves first and foremost.

AWF: Ghana will be hosting the 2018 AWCON,what are your expectations for the host nation ?

EK: I expect Ghana to be up and doing in preparation for this competition.Unfortunately the championship is not generating a lot of buzz on the airwaves. Some countries have been preparing their teams at various levels knowing that winning AWCON grants them a ticket to represent their nations at  the world cup yet not much had been done thus far in Ghana in terms of media attention and others. As cliche as it may sound, had it been a men’s competition  the streets would have been painted red,yellow and green.

I keep hoping for Ghana’s women soccer program to be better than my playing years, knowing the immense talent Ghana has. I trust the players to do their best as always in order to win this competition.  I’m expecting the handlers and administrators to provide the necessary support for the players to make this competition an exceptional one. For Ghana to host this important competition, they must win it and I believe they can do so, should they be given the necessary incentives and motivation.

AWF :I have heard so much about the good work you are doing on the quiet for some African players and considering the vast experience you have amassed over the years,do you see Ghana’s women’s soccer program benefiting from your deep well of knowledge in the near future?

EK:  This is a trick question(chuckles)Well, time will tell.

AWF: You follow women’s football on the continent with eagle eyes I’ve been told. Which countries excite you the most and why ?

EK: That’s a tough question. I wouldn’t like to single out any country. They all are equally exciting especially the countries who are challenging the dominant nations like Nigeria,Ghana and South Africa. I appreciate all the African countries seriously putting  much effort and resources into women’s soccer because the bottom line is that, women’s soccer has come to stay and we all  need to contribute our quota in the march to taking it to a higher level. Cameroon,Equatorial Guinea and others are all exciting to watch considering the impact they have made thus far.

AWF: You played with some good players in your day who have since retired. Why are your former team mates not actively involved in football either as administrators or in other departments of football to help in the development of Ghana women’s  football, like some countries have done by integrating their former players in to  for example  coaching,management,media and so on?

EK: To the best of my knowledge there are a few who are already contributing in the fields you mentioned. I can mention,  Dora Zutah who was a goalkeeper and has been a goal keeper’s trainer for the senior women’s team, Edna Quagraine, who is the deputy coach of one of the women’s youth teams and a recent appointment of one other former player to the position of assistant coach of the senior women’s team. It’s unfortunate there aren’t many involved but I believe the few involved are doing well under difficult conditions. It will be great to see more of the former internationals involved but that will be their decision make.

WSA:  I have been following one young female coach of a men’s team in Ghana by name, Mavis Appiah who is doing so well.What words of encouragement do you have for her and others like as well as our young female players as well ?

EK: It’s my fervent hope and prayer that,our sport flourishes at all levels however,there is the need for hard work,perseverance,diligence,integrity and selflessness in order for women’s soccer to reach the desired height.  If we all put our shoulders to the wheel,players,administrators,managers,fans etc with the right attitude we can dominate the world of women’s soccer. To the women at the helm of affairs,I’ll like to encourage them to go above and beyond themselves in the fight for equality. Their efforts will definitely pay off only if they remain resilient and focused. The task ahead though difficult, is surmountable but it will take hard work and honesty across board to make women’s soccer in Africa a force to be reckoned with. To Mavis Appiah and others,Never rest on your oars,take every opportunity to educate yourself via courses the resourcces are out there,tap into them,keep abreast with the changes in the game,don’t sell yourself short of what you are worth,be confident but humble, be dedicated and honest.  To the players,keep your heads up,set goals, put in your maximum effort,aim higher,be disciplined and humble. They all have my support and I’m always ready to help them in any  way possible.

WSA : Thank you so much for your time and the opportunity you’ve given me to engage you in such a hearty and informative chat.

EK: The pleasure is all mine.

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