Tuesday 14 April 2020, 07:06

Susie Petruccelli: Raised a Warrior

  • Football helped inspire Susie Petruccelli to write an award-winning book

  • Friendships have been forged with Pele's daughter and USA legend Julie Foudy

  • "I don’t want any little girl to be alone when she experiences inequality"

What connects Pele’s daughter, a USWNT legend, a pioneering journalist, an industry network and a mother?

The answer is a name many outside of the women’s game will be unfamiliar with. But to an increasingly connected group of global advocates, Susie Petruccelli is their friend. Peer. Sister. And next month, she is also going to be a published author.

The first thing that strikes you upon reading the final draft of her book, Raised a Warrior, are the testimonials. Billie Jean King. Donna De Varona. ‘The King’, Pele. And Julie Foudy. Two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup™ winner. Two-time Olympic gold medalist.

Susie fell in love with football at the age of four. Her passion quickly grew for a sport still to really pierce the public consciousness in the US. There was no football on TV. Certainly not of women playing.

Yet what started out as a way to spend time with her brother, started to consume her. And to her joy, she began to realise that, along with her twin sister, she had a talent.

This childhood awakening would take her to Harvard. Crossing paths, and playing against, US internationals Julie Foudy, Brianna Scurry and Shannon MacMillan.

Susie’s fledgling career coincided with a critical time in her life. Trying to balance her desire to win an Ivy League trophy with academic pressures. A sense of dislocation from her Californian roots. Questioning her sexuality, amid pressures to conform to student and societal ‘norms.’ And a growing feeling of injustice that female athletes, and female academics, were not being treated seriously. Or given the same opportunities.

As Susie’s life embraced marriage and motherhood, the fire to make a difference was growing inside her. The change she wanted to see in her time at Harvard was still not happening fast enough. In her words: “A chance meeting, a serendipitous conversation, a simple question, prompted a profound change in my path.”

Susie Petruccelli in action for Harvard.

A new passion emerged: writing. It was fuelled by the fact that, everywhere she looked to hone her new craft, the only sports books on the shelves heroed men.

The more she researched, the more Susie slowly discovered another, lesser-told narrative. As she described in her book: “Stories about women who defied stigmas to participate in male-dominated realms, breaking down one barrier at a time. Each book led me to more books, and the more I read, the more questions I had.”

Susie learned about American Senator Birch Bayh, who later would write the following text: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

He added the sentence to a set of amendments of a federal law that became known as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, or just Title IX.

In Susie’s book she wrote: “I had directly and profoundly benefited from a single, thirty-seven word sentence. It gave me my acceptance into college and it gave me soccer; and those two things were the foundation of my entire life. Absolutely everything. And I’d never even known.”

As her thirst for knowledge grew, a series of meetings and invitations drew her deeper into a group of women that would continue to inspire her. She reconnected with Foudy, met Pele’s eldest daughter, Kely Nascimento-DeLuca, and saw them produce a documentary-film together. That finally pushed her to do something she’d long thought about: write a book.

One day, Susie’s son asked: ‘What’s it about mum?’ In her book, she explained: “My parents wanted me to be a soccer player and they also expected me to do well in school. When I got older I learned that girls didn’t always have those opportunities the way boys did. And then I learned that there are millions of girls around the world who still don’t have those opportunities.”

In the spring of 2018, Susie saw a tweet from an organisation in the UK called Women in Football, a non-profit concern working to support girls and women in all areas of the game. The group launched the #WhatIf Campaign, where businesses, celebrities and individuals made a pledge to help the progress of girls and women in the football industry.

One of those pledges was designed to give practical help to empower women in the game, and guarantee publication of a book by a female football writer.

Susie wrote to Ian Ridley of the publishing company Floodlit Dreams. Ian had conceived the Vikki Orvice Prize in conjunction with Women in Football following the death of his wife, a pioneering sports journalist who was a founder member and director of the organisation. The following day she received his feedback: “The first thing to say is that there is certainly a book in here and you have a great story to tell.”

The 44-year old mother of three, living on the east coast of America, was up against 20 other entries. The judging panel chose Raised a Warrior as the winner.

She finished the book with the following words: “I don’t want any little girl to be alone when she experiences inequality for the first time. I want to be there letting her know that there is a massive, growing army fighting to make things equal for her before she grows up. This is our responsibility.”