Lianne Sanderson: “If JoLi can change a life, it will be good enough”

Jaume Cifre/Oriol Borràs/Roger Cornet

Lianne Sanderson and Joanna Lohman opened the doors of their flat to Esport Femení. They are two footballers who have played in the best league in the world and now, they have come to Espanyol. It is an ambitious project, although it will be short as well. In January, they will leave the Catalan club to move forward in a very different project that crosses borders and goes far beyond football.

Lianne and Joanna with Espanyol's football shirt.

You both have been playing in important teams all around the world. Why did you decide to come to Espanyol?

J: We had a good relationship with Verónica Boquete in Philadelphia and we had aspirations of playing during the off season. You can’t play as much as you would like in Philadelphia and we needed to find another club to continue training and playing during the WPS off season. Having spoken to Vero we thought that it would be a great place for us to come and experience a new culture.

I suppose that Vero Boquete gave you some advice about Barcelona, and I know she also gave you a special present to help you with your Spanish lessons…

L: Yes! She gave us the Spanish version of “The Little Prince” (“El Principito”). She used to read it to us in Philadelphia to improve her English, so now we can read it to her in Spanish.

Lianne, we can read in your website that your hairstyle is very important for you and that you wear perfume to play football. Has it always been like that?

L: It’s a funny question! (laughs). I like to express myself when I’m on the football pitch, I feel almost at home. First of all, I have to concentrate on being the best player I can be, but I like to look good, to feel good. And I think that if you feel good when you’re playing, you play better.

How are you doing during your time in Catalonia, is it different compared to the USA? What have you enjoyed most in Barcelona?

L: I think it’s very different, but I miss America and all my friends in there. Anyway, it’s good to be here. We live 2 minutes away from the beach; we have great teammates, have met a lot of people and new friends… It’s quite different of what we are used to, but we are really enjoying it.

J: It’s a bit of a cultural shock. It’s a new language, a new area to familiarize yourself with and a new culture to understand. But as soon as you get the new timings I think it becomes a lot easier. I really love experiencing new cultures and sharing my culture with the new people that I meet.

Have you noticed important differences between American and Spanish women football?

L: I think the level is expected to be lower in Spain, because soccer is a priority in America. Girls have to go to school or work in here, while in America we can be full-time professionals. We don’t have to work while we are on season. Just train from 10h to 14h and then you go home. It’s different in Spain, where you start training at the end of the day, when everybody has finished at their workplace or studies.

J: In America football is your profession, it’s what you do full-time. Here is more like a part-time job or even a hobby, because unfortunately there is not enough money to make a full time job of it. Here footballers have to create a future for themselves in another way and in America it’s taken more seriously.

Joanna and Lianne in their flat.

How could we improve this in Spain?

J: It’s a very slow process, and it’s difficult because you don’t have a legal structure supporting women athletics. In Spain there are not so much women exercising athletics as they are in America, but it is because it is not as supported as it is in America. It’s not wrong, it’s just different.

L: I’m with Joanna in that way. Here people stare at us in the street when they see we are Espanyol footballers. It was the same in England when I was playing there, but it is normal in America for a girl to play football. If there were more money in Spain or in England, then there would be more good players and they wouldn’t be so attracted to leave to the WPS, because they would have good competitions at home.

How are you both feeling in Espanyol? What do you think about the level of the players in Spanish league?

L: It’s very different to anywhere I have been playing before, but I think the league could get better if there were better teams. You can’t have a good league with only three teams that are really competing. I think the league would be better if it had more teams like At. Madrid, Barcelona or Espanyol. When good players see that a team can win most of its games 9-0 or 10-0 in Spain, the ask “where’s the point about going there?”. The league is not competitive enough and I think it would be better if there was more money.

J: I think there are some very high level players in Spain, but the problem is that they are all in the same teams and that makes the league not competitive. Spanish national team is able to play in a very high level, but I think the entire league needs a change in order to improve its level.

Has any team or any player impressed you during your stay in Spain?

L: I think we both agree in the same person: Willy, our teammate. There are a lot of players in Spain we think that if they were given a better kind of training, they would be able to play in America, in better leagues.

J: Tecnically, there are a lot of great players in this league. The main difference is on the physical side, because here is not possible to train as much as a professional team in America. I agree with Lianne: Ana Romero is really fast, she is left-footed, she serves great crosses and she’s unique on the woman’s game.

Joanna and Lianne with some fan's pictures.

You signed a short-term contract with Espanyol because you’re leaving to India with JoLi Academy on January. Could you explain us what’s JoLi Academy about and what will you do in India?

L: This is something that we’ve been doing for the last 8 months. I had my own academy in England, Lianne Sanderson Academy, and it was an idea of mine to have a global academy in countries they are under privilege. The kids have no money and they have not really the opportunities we had. Jo has the same passion as I have as well with my academy. Jo knows a lot of the bussiness side and I like to coach kids. So, in January, when we go to India, we will be helping around 200 girls. This kids don’t have any shoes, don’t have anything. I think we are not going to realise how difficult is gonna be, and how difficult is for this girls to play soccer until we go there.

So I guess this goes beyond football…

J: It’s about teaching soccer skills, but we also try to improve the quality of life. Soccer is the universal language, is the most powerful sport on the globe. In India, the future of these young women is set when they are born. They get married often at ten years old, they have kids at fourteen and for the rest of their lives they have to provide for their family. We go there just for them to have a sense of hope…

L: We’re going to the toughest parts of India, and for us it’s not gonna be similar to what we are used to, but if we go there and we can change one life and help them… That’s great. That’s good enough for us.

What will you do when you finish your labour in India?

L: We’ll carry on. This is not just something we are doing in January in India, and then we are gonna forget about it. This is something that we aim to do for the next ten or twenty years. We want to go to other countries, off the India, and we are hoping to change many children’s lifes and help them.

Before you leave to India you’ll have to face FC Barcelona in Sant Adrià. Do you think Espanyol can beat them?

J: Absolutely. There’s no doubt in our minds that we can beat Barcelona. I think we have a great group of girls in Espanyol team. We are in a good form, with pretty convincing results, home and away. We are gaining a lot of confidence, us and our coach, and as a group we are playing the best we’ve played all season long.