Our Hero of the Week is the wonderful Ada Hegerberg

Johnny’s new feature chooses someone or something in football that deserves celebrating for what they’ve done this week. This week: Ada Hegerberg.

Our Hero of the Week is the wonderful Ada Hegerberg

Our Hero of the Week is the wonderful Ada Hegerberg

 

Who’s This Week’s Hero, Johnny? This week’s hero is a 23-year-old Norwegian international from Molde. She’s the star of the all-conquering Lyon team, is widely regarded as one of the best players in the world and if that wasn’t enough, she is an outspoken proponent of respect, equality and fairness in the game.

“I could speak for hours about equality, and what needs to change in football, and in society as a whole. But in the end, everything comes back to respect.”

Having been capped 66 times for her country, she has refused to play since 2017 in protest against how women’s football is regarded by the Norwegian FA. Articulate, incredibly motivated and simply one of the best footballers strutting her not inconsiderable stuff on the planet today, she is a hero and an inspiration to many both, on and off the pitch. That’ll be Ada Hegerberg, then.

 

What Have They Done To Deserve This Then? Have some of this…

Yes, she scored a hat-trick in 16 minutes in the Champions League final, won Player of the Match and in doing so won her fourth Champions League title with Lyon, her fifth league title and fifth Coupe de France, whilst also being voted BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year 2019 for the second time by fans from all over the globe, via the World Service, five months after being awarded the first Ballon d’Or Féminin! Yup, that’s all!

She’s an absolute goal machine having scored an amazing 255 career goals in 254 games, 130 of which are for Lyon in just 105 games, with whom she has won 13 out of 15 available trophies. Capable of scoring all different sorts of goals from bullet headers, to long-range powerdrives, to first-time volleys, to shinners from two yards, she’s also got a sizzling turn of speed that sees her outrun many a defence to slot home with ruthless accuracy.

If you’d like to read more about her upbringing and career, she has written an inspirational, touching, heartwarming and beautiful piece here. It absolutely is the antidote to every sexist, misogynist, mean-spirited sneerer of women’s football past and present. Thanks to the never-not-excellent Graham Hunter for giving me a heads up on this.

To illustrate how inspiring she is, I can do no better than quote an interview she gave to the BBC after winning her latest award.

“What I think is important for us as players is to always stay on our toes and be critical to everything being said. It’s great that we all talk about investment but there needs to be action behind it as well. If we don’t push for the change for women’s football to go in the right direction then it won’t come by itself.

“I think sometimes we need to come away and think ‘are we going as fast as we should be? Are we doing things right? Is this all talk?’ Football is my biggest passion in life and I’ve worked really hard to get here. It’s so important to me so I can’t sit and watch things not go in the right direction.

“It would be easy for me to perform, do my thing, and stay quiet. But it’s so much bigger than that. Winning all these trophies and having all this success gives you a voice. It’s not about me. It’s never been about me. It’s about getting the change for our sport. It should motivate a lot of others too. We’re all in this together. I got a question from a journalist asking ‘do you consider yourself a footballer or someone who fights for equality?’ and I said it’s impossible to be in football and not fight for equality.

“When we all stand together on this, to bring our sport in the right direction, we will be so strong. The more people give attention to equal pay, the easier it gets. I think we should look at ourselves and what we can do to develop the sport to increase the level and obviously that’s to perform, to increase the level. That’s our biggest job.

“But it’s not always about money, either. It’s about attitude and respect. We’re talking about young girls getting the same opportunity as boys – giving them the same opportunity to dream.

“If you can change attitudes in the beginning, things will change.

“The men in the suits can’t ignore that. They are going to understand one day. They are going to understand that this is about society and it’s about modern football.”

And she’s still just 23. Yeah, 23. What were you doing at 23? There is no doubt she is a special woman.

 

Anyone Grumpy About It? Ada understandably gets the respect of everyone in the industry, though some such as US footballer Alex Morgan have wanted to know the exact reasons behind her shunning for the national side since 2017, feeling that the best player in the world owes her and us an explanation as to why she won’t be at the World Cup next month.

But most respect her decision was based on the way she was treated by her FA and that she would not have made such a choice without good reason. She has been clear that at the core of the issue was a lack of respect for female players in Norway. Since she ruled herself out, the Norwegian Football Association and the nation’s players’ association have signed an historic equal pay agreement which saw the amount of money paid to the women’s team almost double from 3.1m krone (£296,845) to 6m krone (£574,540). It included 550,000 krone (£47,875) paid by male Norwegian players, money they receive for commercial activities.

Anyone fighting for equality all too predictably gets it in the neck from the reactionary elements in society, women especially so. There are still plenty of people who are unable to talk about football played by women without comparing it to football played by men, as though the default is male and women are mere satellites orbiting their planet.

But this finally seems to be diminishing as a new generation grow up to realise that equality, respect and fairness benefits men as much as it benefits women. We’re all in this life together; disrespect and diminish one of us and you disrespect and diminish all of us. Only in collective solidarity can we forge a future that everyone has a stake in. Ada is simply trying to make the world a better place. No-one should be grumpy about that.

 

What Was The Media Response? In a sign that women’s football is becoming ever more mainstream, all the newspapers ran at least a report on Lyon’s defeat of Barcelona and most have also covered her refusal to play for Norway. With the World Cup starting on June 7 and being covered live on the BBC, it feels like we are approaching a rubicon moment where the game goes from being peripheral to being an important more mainstream strand of sport media in this country. Few outlets would be wise to ignore it the way the once may have. Women’s international football is big news and with many big stars, not least from England and Scotland, who will only be more popular and high profile still after this tournament.

The Express, ever up to speed with contemporary society, ran a headline asking ‘Who Is Ada Hegerberg?’ I’m only surprised they didn’t have a ‘What Twitter Says About…’ piece on her.

The Telegraph declared ‘Hegerberg was the heroine in Budapest’.

CNN ran with ‘Olympique Lyon’s superstar’.

The Sun called her ‘One of the hottest properties in women’s football’.

The Mail, never knowingly not reactionary, ignorantly said ‘The 23-year-old Ballon d’Or winner says there is a lack of respect for the women’s game, but if Hegerberg refuses to show the world how good she is, how can she expect anything to change?’ I’ll leave you to pick the idiocy out of that.

A special mention to the BBC who are doing sterling job with the women’s game. The weekly broadcasting of the Premier League has done much to normalise the presence of football played by women. It has already proven to inspire girls to play the game, with a huge leap in numbers playing at all levels. This is what happens when you see people that you can aspire to being like doing something that is positive, exciting and fun. It is in part down to specific role models like Ada, but more broadly it’s just a narrative which says, ‘these footballers were young girls like you once and now they’re playing on the world stage. You can do that too.’ It’s that simple. It is wholly positive and something of a liferaft of positivity to cling onto in these days of dark bellicose reactionary politics.

There are those who will tell you women’s football isn’t popular and see it as some sort of PC, liberal-lefty conspiracy that got it a regular slot on TV, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this how you make something popular and anyway, it’s not like the men’s Premier League commands a big TV audience, especially on BT Sport where their FA Cup Final coverage was outperformed by CBeebies ‘Elves and the Shoemaker’, and this despite the fact men’s football has all but had a monopoly on TV football since television was invented.

Starting on June 7 and lasting a month, the BBC are broadcasting the World Cup, are putting serious resources into it and it promises to be superb with lots of games on BBC One. It’s on 5live too and under the red button. It feels like this is the quantum leap of media coverage many have long waited for.

 

What The People Say I saw Ada Hederberg play for Norway at the under 20 World Cup in Kobe Japan in 2012. She looked a special player then, and has since proved it in impressive style, both on and just as importantly off the pitch – John Roder

Oh how wonderful you’re doing this, it’s been great seeing so much support for her and the issues she raises. It’s been lovely popping into her life every so often to chat and surprise her with trophies. Good to see the growth in awareness over the years. Good luck with it!

— Sarah Mulkerrins (@SarahMulkerrins) May 23, 2019

She’s the best in the world at what she does and she’s fun and outspoken with it. She’s an excellent role-model for young female footballers – Kay Murray.

Watched the final at the stadium and I’m not sure I’ve seen such a masterclass from a striker in person before. She has great support and plays for a brilliant team, but damn, what a player she is – Edvin Hansson.

Credit is due for taking a stand against the continued misogyny and sexism in the game by refusing to play for her national team. That and she’s ace.

— Peter Robson (@peter_a_robson) May 23, 2019

255 career goals in 254 games at the age of 23 is proof that she can’t be human – The Major.

I’ve spent the last two days transcribing her interviews and writing stories for @bbcsport on her award. Her demeanor, her attitude and commitment is genuinely uplifting – Caroline Chapman.

 

What Does The Future Hold? Well whatever it holds, when she wins her next award, twerking will surely not be on the agenda. That cringeworthy incident at the Ballon d’Or made everyone put their head in their hands. Typically, she saw the bigger picture.

“When I got up onstage to accept my award, everything was calm. Everything was warm. Everything was perfect. I looked out into the crowd and saw so many amazing footballers. The women’s game and the men’s game were side by side. What an incredible, beautiful moment. I will not let it be ruined by a stupid joke from a presenter. It didn’t ruin it in the moment. It does not ruin it in my memory.”

At just 23, she’s still got the majority of her career ahead of her. As the game gets an ever higher profile, she seems likely to lead the charge into a brave new world. Given how focused and erudite she is, a career in some sort of political capacity once her playing days are over might not be the most outlandish idea. I mean, look how wonderfully she expresses herself and how inspirational she is. Not just to young girls, but to us all, young and old.

“The one thing I would say to any girl who is reading this right now is this: You can’t lose your fire. You can’t let anybody take your fire away from you. If you have big dreams, the fire is the only thing that will get you there. Talent alone will not do it. Patience will not do it. You’re going to be tested and pushed to the limits of what you can take. You’re going to have to work just as hard as the men to get to the top of your sport, but for a lot less money.

“You’re going to cry. You’re going to throw up. You’re going to ache. I remember when I finally had the chance to go play abroad in eastern Germany with Turbine Potsdam, I was so naive. I was 17, and still trying to finish my high school work on the side. We would train three times per day. We would train in the freezing rain, in the snow. It didn’t matter. It was absolutely brutal. They would push us to the breaking point.

“But every single player showed up on time and gave 100%. Every single day. No excuses, no complaints. No one could afford to complain. I would come home at night and I was so sore and exhausted that I would pass out on my bed at seven o’clock with my homework scattered everywhere.

“These are the moments that nobody sees. But you can’t lose the fire.”

She doesn’t seem set to lose that fire any time soon and one thing is for sure, she will forever be a legend of the game, up there with all the great footballers…and perhaps even more importantly, all the great people. While there are women like Ada around, we all have hope.

John Nicholson

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