Women Love Soccer: Nicole Empowers her Soccer Sisters

This is Nicole’s story. She is a New Media Studies student in Chicago, and not only does she love soccer, she plays soccer. She did us the courtesy of answering many of these questions both from a player and a supporter perspective! Ultimately, she lives for soccer; don’t we all? Let’s learn about her.

Soccer friends are the best friends!

Q: Tell us about your very first soccer game.

A: (As a player)
The very first soccer game I played was when I was seven years old. I played on a team with mostly all boys. I remember my first practice I didn’t want to go at all. I always say that my parents forced me to go, but they never like when I say that. They have always reminded me how I ended up loving to play. It quickly became part of my identity.

A: (As a supporter)
In the late 80’s, early 90’s I would go to Chicago Power games with my dad and his German buddy (Jake) all the time. A few things I remember about these games other than the company of my dad and Jake:

The first USWNT game I attended was around 1995. It was played at a suburban Chicago high school (St. Charles, I believe). I remember Mia Hamm running by me from the way to the field from the locker room. She was close enough to touch, but I took a photo instead. I remember being really excited because one of my friends/teammates got to hold one of the flags during the national anthem. I don’t remember who the US played that day or much about the game – I just remember being really excited and sharing the afternoon with my dad and friends.

Q: What team(s) do you follow, and what leagues are they in? How did you start following those teams?

A: I primarily follow Chicago Fire of MLS and Chicago Red Stars of NWSL (previously WPS). I also follow USMNT and USWNT, but I am primarily a Club Before Country type of fan.

I started following Chicago Fire in the early 2000’s when my family started to attend games regularly. We became Fire season ticket holders around 2004 and have been since then. Watching soccer is my zen time. I love the social aspect and sharing matches with my friends and family, but sitting and watching a game live is what I love most – the action on the field, the unpredictability. At the same time I also used to attend Chicago Storm (MISL) games regularly. They played in Chicago at a local college, so I’d go watch with friends or by myself. At this time in my life I wasn’t playing soccer, so watching it brought the love of soccer back into my life.

As far as Chicago Red Stars are concerned, Peter Wilt and other Chicago Fire supporters asked me to help start their first supporters’ group, so myself along with a few others founded Chicago Local 134 in 2008, the year before WPS actually took to the field and the year after CRS was founded. I was involved regularly with L134 in 2009-2010, so I went to CRS games all the time. Empowering women through sports and women’s soccer are important to me; needless to say, I’m still a huge fan.

Other than my local clubs, I also follow the USWNT significantly more than the USMNT. Growing up and playing soccer in the 90’s made the players of that time my idols. It’s amazing to still see some of these women playing: Shannon Boxx, Christie Rampone. Girl power!

Q: What about the game hooked you?

A: (As a Player) I’m not sure what hooked me as a youth player. I’m sure I had fun running around, as I got older it certainly was a huge part of my identity.

I was on a walk-on at DePaul University my freshman year (’98), and I decided not to play. I was totally lost after making that decision. Soccer was my identity. I ended up transferring to a community college to play there for a couple of years, while not as significant as playing Division I soccer, it allowed me to play soccer daily at a less intense level and meet amazing people, which was good for me while I was studying. I started playing again (pickup and adult coed leagues) around 2006 with old and new friends. I played on a coed team Sweetness FC (named after Chicago’s legendary Walter Payton – we started out playing pick-up at Walter Payton Prep School in Chicago before officially joining an adult league) for a few years. We were best friends and many of us are still close or stay in touch today.

Playing soccer is where I’m truly happy, it’s where I’m able to let all my emotions out.

A: (As a Supporter) I love soccer because it unites people because it brings the world together. It gives me a place to belong whether I’m playing on the field, supporting in the stands, or helping promote the game.

Q: With whom in your life do you share soccer?

A: (As a Supporter) I share soccer with my family, friends, Section 8 Chicago soccer community and beyond. As I mentioned earlier, my family has had season tickets to Chicago Fire since approx 2004. Sadly, I lost my main soccer buddy, my dad, in 2010. I, of course, still love watching soccer with my mom, sister, and friends, but nothing compares to watching or talking about the game with him. (Article about my dad: The Evolution of American Soccer Support Through A Kid at Heart)

As a supporter I share the game with my sister, boyfriend, my friends, and the Section 8 Chicago community. I’ve been actively involved with S8C for a while now, so it’s become a second family to me even if all of us don’t always see eye to eye. As of around 2009/10 I no longer stand in The Harlem End (supporters section of Toyota Park) for Fire matches unless at an away game, though I appreciate the energy they bring. I sit in the upper deck or terrace seats. It’s the best view in the house, I swear!

While I usually enjoy games with family or friends, I don’t mind watching games on my own either.

Kick It Social
Kick It Social

A: (As a Player)
I share the game with friends and teammates. I play both coed and women’s league and work part-time for an adult league, Kick It Social, in Chicago primarily as the Women’s League Coordinator. I’m fortunate to have made genuine friends from playing the game, and am happy to say that I still play with a couple of friends that I played with in high school.

Like Section 8 Chicago, Kick It Social has also become a small community of soccer loving folks in Chicago. I am surprised though that most of the friends that I’ve made from playing adult league soccer do not support MLS or NWSL regularly and most friends I’ve made from supporting Fire or Red Stars do not play soccer. How can we bridge this gap?

Q: Have you traveled to any away games for your team? Where did you go and what was the experience like?

A: I’ve traveled to several away games. I’ve supported the Fire in Toronto, Columbus, New York, Montreal, and KC, and I traveled to St. Louis for the inaugural Red Stars match vs St. Louis Athletica. I can’t wait to travel to more away games!

Q: Do you have any personal soccer-related traditions? What are they?

A: Hmmm. I can’t think of any personal soccer-related traditions… I used to go into Fire games early for warm-ups, to just sit and watch the team practice before the game, but I haven’t been doing that as often lately though I’d like to again.

Chicago Fire has a Wall of Honor that hangs on a wall leading into the stadium. My dad and friends who are no longer with us have been honored by being added to the Wall of Honor, it’s a tradition amongst fans who knew them or recognize those that knew them to touch the wall/plaque on the way into the stadium. Toyota Park was the last place I ever so my dad, so being able to say hi to him at the stadium and touching the wall/plaque has become tradition.

Q: What is the impact soccer has had on your life? What has it brought to you that you wouldn’t have had otherwise?

A: Soccer has allowed me to meet people of various cultures that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I’ve met some of the best friends I’ll ever have from supporting and playing soccer. Playing has allowed me to express my emotions where I might not otherwise be able to express them. Soccer has given me confidence and the empowerment to know that I can make a difference.

Soccer unites us all
Soccer unites us all

Q: If you could tell everyone in the world one thing about soccer, what would it be?

A: Soccer brings people together. Soccer unites.

 

Q: Tell us about your love for women’s soccer.

It’s a personal mission of mine to help grow women’s soccer culture in Chicago – to help give voices to women soccer supporters and get more women to play in adult leagues.

I’ve been helping organize adult women’s teams and leagues in Chicago since 2006. Someone had originally started a Facebook group for players to connect, since then I’ve taken ownership and created it into a FB page and group called Chicago Women’s Soccer. I hope that they will allow women who support soccer and play soccer to connect with one another and stay up to date on soccer related games, leagues, events, etc happening in the Chicagoland area.

I am currently the Director of Communications for Independent Supporters Association – Section 8 Chicago 2015. In my position I hope to engage fans by communicating more frequently and by making fans feel like they’re part of the community. I also hope to branch out to other soccer organizations in the Chicagoland area to promote Fire and soccer in Chicago.

Regardless of my position as Director of Communications, I hope to give women Fire fans a voice, an outlet to express themselves, and hopefully a place where we can come together to support our team and build a strong supporter community in Chicago. I created a CF97 Female Supporters group on FB that is closed, as it allows female fans to talk amongst themselves without the the bs of the S8C forums interfering (sad, but true). Right now we have 116 women who belong to the FB group, so I’d say that’s pretty great for being a private group.

There has been talk to evolve the group into an actual supporters group, social club, or something similar, so hopefully in the next few weeks a group of us will get together to formalize things a bit more, though right now I don’t think it has to be very formal – just a way for us to connect, support each other and Fire. We’ll see where further conversations lead us.

It sounds cheesy, but I feel empowered by the women around me and know I can make a difference in the women’s soccer community whether it’s small or large. I hope I can make a difference in getting other women involved in supporting or playing.

Thanks to Nicole for her story, her amazing work for women’s soccer, and for all her awesome sharing! I love hearing about things going on out there in the world of soccer about which I never would have learned if not for social media. I can’t wait to share more of these wonderful women’s stories with you and I can’t wait to hear yours. Tweet me at @starrphishe, tweet at @WUnitedFC, or leave us a note in the contact box below and we would love to share your #WomenLoveSoccer story.

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