Katie Rood captured the imagination of football fans up and down New Zealand and around the world last year when the Football Fern completed one of the more interesting international transfers you will ever see – from Glenfield Rovers to Juventus.
My mixed feelings at the time scarcely need explanation. It was amazing to think that a player who I’ve watched countless times, kicking around on the suburban parks of Auckland, was all of a sudden playing at one of the biggest clubs in the world. Even if, as a Roma fan, Juventus isn’t on my Christmas card list as a general rule!
But I got over myself fairly quickly and even, very briefly, became an actual ‘member’ of La Vecchia Signora (The Old Lady, as they are known) in an ill-fated attempt to watch live streams of the ragazze in action. They turned out to be geoblocked so the joke was on me.
Now that the Serie A Femminile season has come to its conclusion, with Juventus winning the Scudetto in a penalty shootout, Roodie is back in New Zealand for a short break after she parted ways with the club by mutual consent in order to pursue more game time elsewhere. She has already had a couple of offers from the UK and it sounds like there are likely to be more options on the way as well.
So if I wanted a chat, I had to get in fast! And want one I did. When else am I going to have the opportunity to geek out about Italy with a scudetto winner??
EG: So, tell me about Italy!
KR: It was so crazy, I just never quite imagined myself being there. I just always thought, because my Nana is Spanish, I always had Spain in my mind, and that was the initial offer, it was coming from Spain. Then that club just went quiet and I was like ‘oh no, I’ve blown it, I’m not going to get it!’ And then my agent was like ‘fancy a trial at Juventus?’ I was like ‘what?’
EG: ‘Nahhh, I’ll pass…’
KR: ‘My bags are packed, I’ll be there on Wednesday’ and so I went over and it was just an awesome experience all round. I mean, heaps of ups and downs but just so many learnings to take from it. The Italian people are all SUPER lovely, so friendly, happy with who they are, they are very expressive and the team are just so genuine and fun and jolly.
EG: Was it mostly Italians in the team?
KR: Yeah so there were five of us from elsewhere. Two Finns, a Norwegian, an English player and me. We did sometimes feel a little isolated from the team but by the end it was just one big happy unit.
EG: How’s your Italian? Better than mine already probably!
KR: It’s OK, I can understand quite a lot, especially football stuff. Whenever I get into a conversation I’ll start talking in Italian and then they’ll be like ‘oh you speak Italian’ and then they’ll just go blublublublublu…
EG: Yeah, know that feeling!
KR: But no, it’s OK actually, I can hold my own.
EG: How did the food work out? It’s not exactly the first place you think of when you think vegan friendly… When I heard you were going there it kind of drew parallels for me with that scene from ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’, I was like ‘how’s that going to work?’ But the club, when you had group meals with the team, they totally catered for you?
KR: Yup! They were really good. I’d even get my own special dessert sometimes, which all the girls were like ‘hey, what’s that?’ And I’d be like ‘try it!’ I think a lot of them were a bit like ‘that’s weird’ but they got the point once I was able to explain it. They were like ‘OK, yep, we get it, do your thing’. The first week was a bit of a shock. You know how the Italians eat! It’s pasta and then it’s meat. I think the jetlag and everything got to me a bit and I had this moment where they brought out the veal… and just placed it in front of everybody and I and I was like ‘I can’t deal with this’ I just had to excuse myself for a second and then I was like ‘oh this is embarassing’. But I got the hang of it and with the markets, like literally 50 meters from our apartment; I made friends with everybody there. They’d give me deals, I’d go to the banana man and get 5kgs of bananas a week! The date man was my favourite dude in Italy, he spoke no English and I barely spoke Italian but we got on great. But there were actually quite a few vegan/vegetarian restaurants there too so if I wanted to eat out I could.
EG: What was the best place you visited in Italy and why was it Rome?
KR: Hahaha! No, Rome was INCRECIBLE, like just the history. I can’t fathom it! Coming from here, you’re just like ‘our oldest house is 180 years old or something’. The layers of history. Me and Matt, we watched Gladiator before we went to see the Colosseum just to kind of be like ‘this stuff really happened’. But Cinque Terre, I think was probably my favourite.
EG: *Theatrical sigh*
KR: I just ran around there for two days on my own, eyes open wide going woah! Woah!
EG: Change the subject… There was quite a lot of excitement in New Zealand over your stint at Juventus. And if you think about it, we’ve had players at Chelsea and Manchester City and Liverpool in the past but for some reason Juventus just got everyone going, didn’t it?
KR: Yeah, it did! It really did! It was I think because everybody has seen them in the Champions League. Everybody knows the English clubs from the Premier League but I think it’s something different when they’re consistently in the top ranks. And I think Italian football is a little unknown, especially in the women’s side of things but I think this year they took a MASSIVE step towards… who knows how high they can go. It was huge.
EG: What’s your impression of the state of the game there?
KR: I think if I had gone last year I probably would have said it’s a bit of a mess, by the sound of things. But I think purely from the investment from Juventus, it’s now put so much pressure on the other clubs and they can see how much it’s benefited the game in general and the club has got so much more exposure. The fans are getting on board. It’s awesome, it’s kind of sad but I think the fact that the men didn’t qualify for the World Cup has helped boost the women. They’ve come first in their pool for the World Cup and they’ve qualified! They are like ‘hey, WE can play!’ So I think it’s kind of captured the imagination of the people there a bit.
EG: How into it were the Juventus fans, did you get a bit of…
KR: TOTALLY into it!
EG: Did you get a few ultras following you around?
KR: Yeah, but they weren’t freaky! They were nice…
EG: They weren’t the stabby ones!
KR: No, they were great, they were really cool. I could walk around Torino and they’d be like ‘hey, can we get a photo?’ I’d be like ‘who me? Sure!’ It was crazy.
EG: It looked like they integrated you a bit with the men’s team as well, you got to hang with them a bit?
KR: Not too often, but initially we had our Christmas party and we got to meet them and take photos with them. Then unfortunately we missed out on the end of the year party because our games got switched over. So we were playing our final the day after they had their BIG ending of the season so we missed that one, but you’ve got to weigh it up with what happened.
EG: And it seems like what Juventus are doing might be catching on, I know Roma has done it now, buying out Res Roma, and Milan as well. Is that good?
KR: Yeah, YEAH, it’s awesome!
EG: It feels like there’s a LITTLE parallel with New Zealand in that our National Women’s league, eventually, is supposed to go to clubs and mirror the men’s league and so the men’s teams are going to be investing in the women’s game. Are there plus sides and minuses with that?
KR: Yeah like I was, while I was over there, drawing the parallels with New Zealand and I think the state of the game – they are probably two or three years ahead of us. But also a long way behind the rest of Europe. But they have the money in the football. It’s their sport. Whereas here the clubs don’t have that kind of financial backing or the ability to kind of blow it up like that so I think it’s got to come from somewhere else in New Zealand. But no I think in Italy, for sure, the investment from the big clubs is definitely just going to help grow the game.
EG: It’s also nice that there are women only clubs that just focus on the women’s game, you’re not second fiddle there I guess?
KR: It’s kinda stink for some teams, who are probably just going to get bought out by the big clubs. Brescia just did it, they’ve lost their Champions League spot so I don’t quite know how those girls would be feeling. But it’s catch 22. For the betterment and growth of the game, I guess you need those big clubs investing.
EG: Did you get a sense of what’s been holding Italy back?
KR: Just that old patriarchy, I think, in a lot of ways. There were still some people that would come up to us and be like ‘really, girls play sport?’ I think they can accept that girls play volleyball but anything outside that they’re like ‘hmmmmm’. Even the younger men. I’d get stopped in the street and they’d be like ‘those are athletic legs, what do you do?’ ‘I play football’ or they’d see a Juventus thing and they’d be like ‘ah, you play Juventus volleyball’ and I’m like ‘no, calcio!’ ‘oh, wow!’ But usually you’re met with genuine surprise and positivity with that, it wasn’t like ‘what are you doing, doing that, that’s a men’s game!’ But it was still, they hadn’t really heard of it before.
EG: So they are kind of ahead of us but they are kind of behind us a little bit too in some ways. And did you talk to the Azzurre players about their experience in the national team?
KR: Yeah, their year has been amazing in terms of the impact that they have had on Italian women’s football and Italian football in general. Our captain, Sara Gama, she’s also on the board with Chiellini representing the players with the national body and she’s been fighting tooth and nail…
EG: She’s their Grego!
KR: Yeah, totally! She’s done amazing things – she even had a Barbie, did you see that?
KR: She got a full on Barbie doll made after her, they released like five of influential women around Italy, and she was the footballer in full Juventus gear, big afro! They only made one and it’s in the Juventus museum…
EG: That’s peak Italy. So how do you think their national team compares to ours, because they are only ranked a few places ahead of us?
KR: So they’rrrre, I think they’re good! There’s a lot to work on in terms of the structure and how things work over there. It was definitely different to what any of us foreigners had experienced. There were definitely holes that we could pick in it but in teams of team unity and passion, it’s up there.
EG: So you’d go back if you got another offer from Italy?
KR: This year, maybe not. This year, I think… oh no, yeah, it would depend. I mean, I don’t think I would go back into Juve this year just because I know that it didn’t quite work out for me in terms of footballwise. I want to progress further than just being in a good team and not participating as much as I did.
EG: Were they happy with you as a squad player?
KR: Totally. I think I was unlucky. I think I performed quite well at times but just didn’t quite get the opportunity to show what I can do which I’m a bit gutted about but it happens, that’s football, when you’re in a competitive squad like that you’ve gotta take your chances.
EG: So back in New Zealand, got a bit of a stand down period before you can play again. That sucks?
KR: Well actually I considered transferring back but because there’s kinda not quite enough time, and with it being an international transfer and then hopefully one back to Europe, it kind of wasn’t worth it. And you know how slow the Italian process can be!
EG: Sure! I can imagine, not to mention the New Zealand process sometimes with international transfers, but we won’t go there!
KR: They are OK if you call them up and you’re like ‘come on mate, do us a favour!’
EG: So in the meantime, just doing a bit of coaching with Glenfield?
KR: No, just training. Supporting the team and just hanging out really. But back in the gym, which is good because they don’t do a lot of gym over there either! It’s just body weight stuff and keep ticking over, which was cool but…
EG: Is there a good reason for that or is that…
KR: It’s just the Italian way. They just, it’s not an important part of their game. You look at Chiellini, he’s a stick, you know? He does all the things that he needs to do.
EG: Is everything different in terms of the training regime?
KR: Yeah, in Italy it’s like ‘training starts at 3’ and then it’s quarter to four and it’s, ‘OK, let’s go!’ It took some getting used to, but once you get it you get it!
EG: Haha that sounds like Italy! So the aim is just to get some game time somewhere? Obviously you’re still keen on Europe.
KR: Totally. That’s the spot for the next few years. But everybody’s been ‘oh you’re home. Are you home for good?’ Are you kidding? I’ve had one year, I’m just getting started! Definitely not home for good!
A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: http://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/