While today she is arguably the most internationally recognisable Spaniard in the women’s game, the road Veronica Boquete has travelled to get there has been anything but easy. Currently on the books of Swedish club Tyreso FF, the striker is conscious that she is one of the privileged few women who can say, “I’m a professional footballer”. Indeed, for a women born in a country like Spain, that is rare indeed.
She told FIFA.com. “We live in a macho country and that conditions us. From an early age it was expected that boys do one thing and girls another. We need to educate people differently so that one day we can stop talking about the battle for equality – a day when it really does exist.
"Being a woman, I’ve felt discrimination since I was a very young. When I began playing the game as a six-year-old, there was a regulation preventing boys and girls from playing on the same team. So I used to regularly train with the boys, go to games with them and even put my kit on. But I then had to sit on the bench. I was still very young and didn’t understand why, but it was frustrating and left a mark on me."
Boquete, who got her first taste of football during kickabouts with her brother Adrian, was fortunate to have parents who supported her choice and encouraged her to persevere, despite an inhospitable atmosphere towards girl players at the time. Even at school, teachers used to say football was a sport for boys.
“In Spain we’re still living with machismo," the 25-year-old explained. "The worst comments I used to hear came from the mothers of opposition boys. Not from the fathers, but the mothers. They were the most macho of all. Could it be because it was their sons who were being scored against and dribbled around and not their daughters,” she asked with irony. “That’s why I believe it’s an education problem.
We live in a macho country and that conditions us. From an early age it was expected that boys do one thing and girls another. We need to educate people differently.
"I was lucky in that it was the complete opposite in my house. I could be on the sofa and my brother vacuum cleaning, and no-one would think it strange. However, in other houses there are very clearly defined roles: the girls help with the housework and the boys do ‘men’s’ things. My brother and I were always treated equally,” said the Santiago de Compostela native, with no little pride.
“That said I wouldn’t change anything about the path I’ve taken, as the obstacles I’ve overcome along the way have made me the person I am today. It’s given me a greater appreciation for things and certain people." The player then paused and reflected before expressing a heartfelt wish: “I just hope that the kind of things I faced become a thing of the past.”
Boquete is clear about what needs to be done. Yes she feels that grandiloquent political measures will help, but the real fight against discrimination is a long term project that has to start at grassroots level. “It’s in schools and among families that work needs to be done. That’s where kids learn everything and where they spend most their time. If equality is real and normal in those environments, then it will remain so for the rest of a person’s life in every environment,” she argued.
No-one would dispute that Boquete has done her bit for women’s football in a country where the beautiful game is still regarded as a man’s thing. “Things are changing in this sport, but one small step at a time. I have my own campus (football education project) in Galicia, and I go there sometimes to give classes. The people seem really interested in what I have to tell them,” she said excitedly. “It’s a privilege to be asked questions by parents and young girls and be asked for an autograph. It’s quite an honour really. I think I enjoy it even more than the autograph hunters.”
The striker feels especially proud, and rightly so, when you girls tell her: “I want to be like you.” Young Spanish girls and women need not look overseas or even to the men’s game for role models to help them make it in football: they have one on their doorstep in Vero Boquete.