Paper Ball 3: Football’s women tell their stories

  • Pelota de papel 3 is a book featuring 29 stories told by women in football

  • Publication is a mix of fiction and stories based on real events

  • The first two books in the series were written by men

“They’re stories about football, but they’re also about women’s fight for their rights.”

The words are those of the Argentinian author Claudia Pineiro, writing in the preface to the book Pelota de papel 3 (“Paper Ball 3”), a compilation of 29 stories written by women in football and presented and illustrated by women too.

“We came up with the idea as soon as we published the first Pelota de papel,” said one of the people behind the book, Argentinian journalist Juanky Jurado, in conversation with FIFA.com. “There weren’t any stories by professional women players out there and the lack of equality was clear to see.

“We had to fly the flag for women’s football in Argentina, South America and the world. We felt they were central characters and had to be part of a movement that is happening around them.”

Encouraged to put their thoughts down on paper and express themselves, more and more players signed up for the initiative, putting together a mosaic of stories that explore feminist causes and gender issues. The result was Pelota de papel 3, published in March 2019.

Among the Argentinian contributors are Aldana Cometti, Belen Potassa and Gabriela Garton, three members of the Albiceleste squad at the FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™, along with a clutch of former players, coaches and journalists.

From elsewhere in the world came stories from the likes of Vanessa Arauz of Ecuador, the youngest female coach to appear at a FIFA World Cup, and Andressa Alves of Brazil, who was at France 2019 too and plays for AS Roma in Italy. And there are also contributions from Brazil’s leading footvolley player and Spain’s first transgender player.

Presentation of Pelota de Papel 3. Photo: Nadia Petrizzo / IG: @nadiapetrizzo.ph

In first person

“As soon as they told me what it was about, I said yes,” Arauz told FIFA.com. “It’s always hard for women to get their own space where they can talk about everything they have to do to have a life in football.

“A book means that we’re more than just a short story. This is something that cuts across generations and borders,” added the 31-year-old coach. “It’ll help others to see what life is like for us and how it feels to be in our shoes.”

Her story is called “90 Minutes” and is based on the second leg of the Canada 2015 qualifying play-off between her Ecuador side and Trinidad and Tobago, a match the Ecuadorians won 1-0.

“It was the most nerve-wracking 90 minutes since I started coaching and it was a landmark win for our women’s game,” she explained. “On a personal level, writing the story made me realise all the insecurities I had, but it also showed me that if you have a clear objective, you can achieve it if you work hard.”

VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 12:  Ecuador coach Vanessa Arauz continues to offer encouragement to her team during the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 Group C match between Switzerland and Ecuador at BC Place Stadium on June 12, 2015 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

As for Cometti, the invitation to take part in the book was, as she explained to FIFA.com, “a very lovely surprise”: “I felt I was doing something good and that something good was happening with women’s football in my country too.”

The Sevilla player had just won the 2018 Copa Libertadores Feminina with Atletico Huila of Colombia, having scored a vital penalty in the shoot-out. That success provided the inspiration for “Lo Bailado”, a title that refers to the Spanish expression “Quien te quita lo bailado”, which means “No one can take it away from you”.

“I put everything in the story: what I’d been through to get that far, all the preparation and what it means for a player to play at that level and to say that, yes, they could do it, not to mention everything you have to fight for,” added Cometti.

Writing her story was also a journey of self discovery for the 24-year-old defender: “It made me realise all the decisions I’d taken and the influence my family had on those decisions. They helped me keep going, though sometimes parents don’t support their girls. And they need supporting. It’s tough to have to listen to people saying that you can’t.”

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 19: Aldana Cometti of Argentina takes a selfie photograph with her family after the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group D match between Scotland and Argentina at Parc des Princes on June 19, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Female role models

Arauz was used to being a role model for her players, but Pelota de papel 3 gave her a fresh perspective on things: “One 45-year-old woman who read my story and the book told me that she identified with it because she’d wanted to be a footballer but was too afraid to take the step. Maybe if she’d read a book like this before, she might have gone for it.”

Giving her views, Cometti said: “It would have been great to have had examples like this book when I was a girl because the only things I knew about women’s football came from my older team-mates. I didn’t have any female players to look up to. Even when I made the national team, I knew about Marta and not much else.”

That has, of course, changed and now it's her turn to be a role model. “Just after the book came out, the national team physio sent me a photo of him reading it to their daughter. The best thing was the message: ‘Thank you because now she knows that women’s football exists’."

Presentation of Pelota de Papel 3. Photo: Nadia Petrizzo / IG: @nadiapetrizzo.ph

Literature with a cause

Pelota de papel 3, which is now on its second print run and has sold 7,500 copies so far, also has a charitable and social goal.

All royalties from the book go to La Nuestra Fútbol Feminista, a charity that uses football to drive social change in the Buenos Aires slum Villa 31, while the book continues to be presented at schools and community clubs, where the role of women is discussed and reading promoted.

“It’s a revolutionary piece of literature,” the journalist and writer Ayelen Pujol told FIFA.com. Her contribution to it is a fictional tale that puts the importance of being able to play in a women’s team, in a place previously reserved for men, above the result.

The author of ¡Qué jugadora! Un siglo de fútbol femenino en la Argentina (“What a Player: A Century of Women’s Football in Argentina”) Pujol also sees Pelota de papel 3 as proof that there is an audience for women’s football out there: “They want to go to games and find out these players’ stories.”

Offering one last opinion on the book, she added: “We can now think of ourselves as the main characters of our story, as part of it, and if you like writing, then you can now write football stories too. That’s what Pelota de papel means.”

📸 Pelota de papel 3: Nadia Petrizzo / IG @nadiapetrizzo.ph