“Girls, you won!” It was around 11pm in Rancagua, central Chile, and the WhatsApp message made me dance around the house, telling my mum everything we had gone through, what this had cost us: Nicole, Constanza, Alexandra, and me.
We weren't in the same city, but as soon as we saw photos of the court sentence sent to us by our lawyers and the people from ANJUFF, the association linked to the Chilean players' union SIFUP, we set up a video call. We screamed, we cried, we told ourselves that we were real game changers.
We really felt that way. We are pioneers and game changers for being the first female footballers in the history of this country to win a lawsuit against a club, and not just any club, but a big name in Chilean football: Everton. We managed to get the courts to recognise our professional relationship with the club, that we had been discriminated against for years for being women and that we deserved compensation.
Everton insisted that we were just amateurs. We had to prove that we were not: that we played in the national first division championship, that we followed a work schedule, we were on a diet, and we were penalised if we did not comply. We said it loud and clear: we are professional footballers.
The conflict exploded because of situations within the club that made us uncomfortable, because we were demanding that women's football gets what it deserves. That's why they kicked us out in March 2021 and closed the door on us for good. That's when we got the idea of suing them.
You have to be very brave to do this and we were very brave. We received a lot of help from ANJUFF. They gave us the boost we needed to encourage us, they laid out the options and convinced us that we stood a chance.
We lodged our lawsuit in July 2021. It was a difficult few months, with long, tiring meetings preparing our case with the lawyer while ANJUFF provided peace of mind and moral support. ANJUFF trained us on what to say and what not to say to the media so our words were not turned against us. It also helped us to get a lot of media coverage.
Their message was that we were doing something amazing for football in Chile, even if we didn't win.
The four of us also tried to cheer each other up. We went through periods of being very down, we were very afraid of what was going to happen to us for having kicked up a fuss. For those of us who live and breathe football, being out of the game for a year is agonising.
Messages were sent back and forth. “Girls, how are you?” “Do you know we're having a match?” “We're playing football today! Come on, let's get together anyway." We supported each other, talked to each other a lot, that was our daily life, even more so during the pandemic, when living in seclusion without football was hard.
Many players from our region, whom we had met as rivals or team-mates, gave us their support. They felt, even from the outside, that they were part of something they never dared to do themselves.
Other long-time Everton team-mates turned their backs on us. They preferred to keep their spot and not fight the club that was giving them a chance to be professional footballers.
We felt a bit betrayed, but we also understood their mindset. We were right to do what we did but they also have their reasons to think that way. Maybe they just need a place where they can train and play, no matter how basic the kit or a clean dressing room that has not been used before by men.
They probably won't change their thinking now, but one day maybe they will realise that what we are doing will also benefit them at some point in their career.
“The message from ANJUFF was that we were doing something amazing for football in Chile, even if we didn't win.”
After the sentence, I have chosen to put my football career on hold. Nicole and Constanza are playing for Santiago Wanderers in the Chilean second division. Alexandra preferred to focus on her future career and I am studying kinesiology. I finish this year and the obligations of playing professionally would take too much time from my study schedule.
I am in an amateur team and in September we are going to Barcelona with a team of friends to play a 7-a-side World Cup. I play a bit for fun, as a hobby, in this sport that I have loved since my mum and dad instilled it in me back when I was a little girl.
I think I'm still a bit resentful, still going through a moment of healing with regard to professional football after everything I've been through. It was a hard blow but my goal is to return in 2023. I want to be ready so that I can find a club and start again.