Participation is soaring, public interest is intensifying and the national team is selling out stadiums — these are heady times for women’s football in the Netherlands. The Orange Lionesses are tournament hosts for this summer’s UEFA European Championship and the strength of their support is indicative of a wider trend in Dutch sport. Vrouwenvoetbal is on the up.
Ahead of this month’s tournament, Nike commissioned photographer Jane Stockdale to create ‘Game On’, a superb documentary photo series which provides a telling glimpse into the lives of those involved in this boom.
Meet Djennah Cherif, an 11-year-old from Rotterdam whose bedroom is a shrine to the football, and Roxanne ‘Rocky’ Hehakaija, a street player who honed her skills playing with the boys at her neighbourhood playground.
Then there are the talented teenagers of the CTO Academy in Amsterdam who will watch this summer’s matches with genuine aspirations of following in the footsteps of the Lionesses. They will be joined in the stands by the women of Majella Domstad, an amateur club in Utrecht drawing girls of all ages and backgrounds. And also meet the women who will carry home hopes. The Lionesses… focussed, fierce and proud.
Stockdale’s work uncovers a deep and sincere passion for football in the Netherlands as the women’s game heads into its summer of love.
Fully focused at the age of 11, Djennah doesn’t rememver a time when the game wasn’t her life. The Rotterdam resident has had a ball at her feet since she learned to walk. Encouraging her daughter’s unbreakable drive to be the best, Djennah’s mom drives her to practice most nights of the week.
Her Mondays are meant to be football-free, but she still finds a way to play, dreaming of signing with FC Barcelona when she’s older. While she has been offered a place on a girl’s side, Djennah thinks that taking on the boys is the challenge she needs.
The Next Generation
For young women pursuing a professional football vision, Amsterdam’s CTO (Centrum voor Topsport & Onderwijs) Academy is one of the best options, training them comprehensively and educating students in the necessity of nutrition and rest. Graduates and students of the three-year programme include many of the U17 and U19 Dutch team lineups that compete this summer.
The amateur team
Welcome to the sisterhood of the game. Majella Domstad is a team from Utrecht that formed two years ago. With ages that range from 20+ to 30+, most of the players have played on a higher level before, but now it’s just for friendly competition. Football is what brings these friends together, once a week for training and most weekends for games or tournaments. It might be for fun, but that doesn’t mean they don’t bring ferocity to the field.
In Amsterdam, the street is a pitch where gender isn’t an acceptable excuse. Go fast, bring the skills and find those gaps or you’re finished. Roxanne “Rocky” Hehakaija is a pioneer of the game who grew up hero-worshipping Brazil’s Ronaldo and Sisi. Rocky would beat her brother and silence critics who said a girl can’t play by letting her feet break the barriers at the pleintjes. Since then, she’s inspired a generation of younger players like Zoi, who dominates a match with a smile on her face.
In the Netherlands, women’s football is the fastest-growing sport, and the Dutch squad has got victory on their mind in this summer’s tournament. It’s the culmination of a lifetime’s work, and despite starring roles on other teams across the globe, this team are a tight-knit crew, having come of age in some of the same academies and on the same street and turf. “The Lionesses” have never been more prepared for anything in their lives.
“Hup Holland hup!” At every game, fans are the fuel, the soundtrack and the motivation. Just as the game evolves, the supporters are diversifying with every season. In the Netherlands, a younger generation of football fanatic is shouting on their side, and this summer’s tournament will be a testament to that loyalty. In stadiums around the country, every voice is heard.