Wednesday 29 July 2020, 09:25

Catia cartographs for women in football

  • Catia Silva has been a diehard football fan since she was a toddler

  • She recently launched the 2Goals Podcast with Maria Laura Ordonez

  • The pair wants to inspire women to work in all areas of football

“Before I’d even got on the pitch they were telling me to get to the kitchen – if they’d tasted my attempt at codfish à brás, they wouldn’t have wanted me anywhere near a kitchen!,” Catia Silva, laughing, told of her time as a referee.

It’s the type of chuckle-off-the-chiders mantra that has not only helped the unshrinking Portuguese turn male barks into begrudging nods of respect, but has also helped her tread through football’s bigoted byways and, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, launch the 2Goals Podcast with Maria Laura Ordonez – one which is not only inspiring women to follow their dreams, but is planting the dreams in their heads.

Not bad for someone who, just a few years back, was fresh from completing her bachelor’s degree in Portuguese and Lusophone Studies, and undertaking a Master’s in Cultural and Literary Mediation – subjects which serve a football CV as well as ‘Chef’ Catia would serve a seafood-seeking gastronome.

“It wasn’t that I wouldn’t have enjoyed a career in what I had studied for, but I knew deep down that I wanted to work in football,” she said. “It’s been my biggest passion my whole life.”

Catia means that literally.

“My passion for football and for Benfica started at a really, really young age,” she explained. “When I was one or two years old, people in Portugal called me Caniggia, who was at his peak for Benfica. Even though I couldn’t speak properly, I used to try and call myself [Michel] Preud’homme.

“I’m from a little village of about 3,000 inhabitants called Vilarinho. My dad was a director at one of the clubs in the local districts, Futebol Clube de Vilarinho, and I remember the highlight of my day would be asking him about training sessions, what was going on.

“And on a weekend I would be at matches – either Vilarinho or Benfica. I loved going to games, the atmosphere. Simao Sabrosa was my biggest idol on the pitch. I remember all of this very fondly.

“Now, looking back, I’m sure I suffered sexism. I remember I was the only girl watching football. Obviously people would look at me in a different way, but I didn’t really take notice because I was so absorbed in football!"

Catia may have been semi-oblivious to sexism in the stands, but she felt it on the pitch when she began refereeing in 2013.

“I knew I was going to suffer: firstly because I was a woman, and secondly because I was a referee,” she said. “I only refereed women once – the rest were men’s games.

“I was incessantly being told I belonged in the kitchen, hearing other insults. When you’re out on the pitch, you’re focused on your job. But afterwards you analyse things: is it worth being here, getting abused, getting threatened?

“I can’t say there weren’t times when it was difficult, when I was upset, but I didn’t want to give up and let them win. And sometimes players [who had given me abuse] would realise I could do my job and give me respect. That gives you satisfaction.

“But overall it’s a man’s world. This needs to change. We need a lot more women in these positions. Women need way more opportunities.”

Opportunities were something Catia, who had envisioned working as a digital archivist, found hard to come by in Portugal. So, upon the completion of her Master’s in 2016, she moved to Switzerland.

“I worked for two years in food and beverage for a hospital to save money,” Catia explained. “I used it to do a Master’s in football business at The Football Business Academy (FBA) in Geneva, which has been really helpful. I did an internship at Women in Football in late 2019, which was part of my FBA Master’s, and at the end I worked for Brighton WFC for two months.

“When I was at Women in Football, I thought to myself, ‘I’m Portuguese, I was raised in Portugal. How many [Portuguese] women do I know who work in football?’ I could only think of one. So I asked my friends the same question. Nobody could give me a name – nobody.

"This isn’t just a problem in Portugal. It’s a problem in general. We need more platforms to make people aware of women working in the [football] industry. I wanted to do something to tell their stories, but the idea wasn’t specifically to do a podcast.

“When I was finishing my Master’s, the [COVID-19] pandemic began, we were stuck at home. But we had computers, we could do something.

“My colleague Maria Laura is Colombian. We were able to unite two parts of the world and two networks and create a podcast that tells the stories of women who work in football.

“We want to inspire people. We want people to hear our guests and think, ‘I want to be like you’. Not just those who want to be players, but those who want to do other things in football.

“We want to give them courage and show them that it’s not a man’s world. We want them to hear how, for example, a woman can become a business analyst or a lawyer in football. You may have another profession or be working towards a qualification in one, and have a big passion for football. We want to show how women can combine the two.

“What has meant so much to us is that, many of our guests have said to us. ‘Thank you. Nobody has treated us in this way.’"

Those guests have included the likes of Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Arianna Criscione, former Paraguay captain Lorena Soto and Wales’s all-time leading markswoman Helen Ward, as well as pathfinders for women in football such as Manuela Acosta, Xavi Bove, Tatiana Briseno, Tais Cotta and Susie Petruccelli, whose recently-released debut book has already won a prestigious award.

“Our dream guests would be, without doubt, [FIFA Secretary General] Fatma Samoura. She’s broken barriers, she’s reached the top. She’s an example and she has an integral story for women’s football.

“And if we could somehow pull it off, Megan Rapinoe! (laughs) Not just for the football, but for the politics, how she inspires so many people.”

Who knows how many girls will have the charismatic Californian to thank for setting them sail to life as a pro footballer? Who knows how many women one day working as authors, data analysts, player support specialists, nutritionists, podcasters and the like in football’s magnetic sphere will have Catia Silva and Maria Laura Ordonez to thank?