Emma Coolen is a high-level player as well as a journalist
Having hoped to play for the Netherlands at France 2019, she will be reporting on them for FIFA
For the first time at a FIFA Women’s World Cup™, FIFA’s coverage of France 2019 will be spearheaded by 24 Team Digital Content Producers, offering expert insight and exclusive behind-the-scenes content on each of the participating sides.
Between now and the big kick-off, some of these Team Reporters will be sharing their stories and expectations for the upcoming showpiece. Today, the spotlight is on Emma Coolen, who is realising her FIFA Women's World Cup dreams with the Netherlands - but in a different role to the one she envisaged.
“Dad, I wish you could see this. It’s… I can’t explain it. It’s amazing.”
With chattering teeth, I hopped from one foot to the other in an attempt to keep my toes from freezing off, while I tried to convey through the phone my enthusiasm for what I’d just seen.
My dad was sitting at home on the couch, 1,300 kilometres away from the cold Stockholm suburb where I was standing in line for the bathroom during the half-time break of a football match. I could tell he didn’t really care about my story, mumbling some half-hearted answers and going ‘Hmm, yes’ from time to time. But that didn’t matter to me.
Earlier that evening, I had experienced an epiphany. At that point in time, I was a 20 year old chain-smoking party girl, who had played football for most of her life, but never higher than the Dutch eighth division - the lowest amateur tier in the country - and had never shown any significant talent.
But on that night in Stockholm, I was so inspired by the amazing athletes I saw that I decided, right there on the spot, that I was going to change my life forever. I was going to try to become a professional footballer.
On that cold November night in Sweden, I fell in love with football. That day, I saw my first ever professional women’s football game, a UEFA Women’s Champions League quarter-final between Tyreso FF and Danish side Fortuna Hjorring. Then and there, I decided that I wanted to become a professional footballer, and that my goal was going to be making the Dutch squad for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. They say ‘dream big’, right?
Five and a half years later, I am indeed preparing to go to the World Cup. But not as a player with the Oranjeleeuwinnen. Does that mean I failed? Yes and no.
I didn’t reach my goal of playing for the national team (yet), that’s true. But I will be in France with the team, going behind the scenes to share their World Cup adventure with everyone at home, in my role as FIFA Team Digital Content Producer.
To me, this opportunity doesn’t feel like ‘the next best thing’. In fact, it’s the best thing that could ever have happened to me. Sure, being at the tournament as a national team player was my ultimate dream, and I definitely haven’t given up on reaching that at some point.
But I also have to be honest with myself. At this moment, I’m just not good enough. And the fact that I still get the chance to be at the World Cup with the national team, doing the thing I love most after playing football - showing online how incredible women’s football can be - is a huge honour.
When the Oranjeleeuwinnen kicked off their first game at the 2017 Women’s EURO they would end up winning, I was one of the 23,500 people in the stadium. When the national anthem was played, I cried. Why? Because for as long as I could remember, no more than maybe a thousand people would come to watch a women’s football game. On a good day, maybe two thousand.
The players were completely anonymous, and when the women’s national team played, the only way to find out what was going on at the match was to either go to the stadium or call someone who was there. Then, almost overnight, it was like the entire country discovered how amazing women’s football could be.
The Oranjeleeuwinnen started selling out 20,000-seat stadiums in minutes, thousands of people visited the ‘Fan Zones’ in every city the women played in, and millions saw the matches on TV. After winning the tournament, the players became instant celebrities, appearing in talk shows, releasing books and signing sponsorship deals.
Reaching their first ever Women’s World Cup in 2015 was the first big step for that Dutch team. Hosting and winning the EURO two years later was a huge leap forward. Now, France 2019 provides the opportunity to show the Netherlands that women’s football is not just a one-time thing. It’s here to stay.
The growth of women’s football in the Netherlands over the past few years had already been an incredible story. But now it’s time to write the most exciting chapter yet.