Growing up boys used to make fun of her for being the only girl on the pitch – but Arsenal’s Danielle van de Donk is having the last laugh now, writes Tom Dean.
The Dutch midfielder is playing out of her skin for both club and country, scoring ten goals in 14 games, as the Gunners aim to defend their WSL crown and Holland hunt back-to-back European titles.
On Sunday she will step out at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for the first women’s game to be held at the ground – but it could have been all very different if her mum Yvonne had her way.
“I was four when I started training at my local club sv Valkenswaard in Eindhoven,” van de Donk said.
“I used to cycle past people playing football in the park on my way to swimming and I would always ask if I could join in.
“But my mum told me to get my swimming badge first and then I could try football – and since then I never stopped playing.
“There was only one other girl on my street that played football – I don’t think she even liked playing but she was a goalie which helped.
“I really should thank the boys that I played with because they made the player I am today and I loved playing with them.
“Obviously the teams we played against hated it because they saw that I was a girl and they laughed in my face but they always ended up shaking my hand afterwards.
“I was never intimidated by that and I knew that my boys had my back but there were some occasions when players couldn’t accept that they were playing football with a girl – like they were offended by me.
“I was a girl in a team of boys but as far as I could tell that was the only difference.
“There were a couple of times where I got upset but mostly I just enjoyed playing football.”
Fast forward 24 years from when she first kicked a ball and Van de Donk is now preparing for the North London Derby against Spurs at their new 62,000 capacity stadium.
It is not lost on her how far the women’s game has come on in that time and she feels it is finally getting the recognition it deserves.
She added: “We’re accepted and appreciated in football now.
“To be playing at the new stadium makes me feel as though there is a bit of an appreciation for what we are doing.
“It should be an amazing experience and I am really looking forward to it.
“The derby is such a big deal in the men’s game and you can always feel the tension when they are playing each other but it is not quite there in the women’s sports yet.
“We are obviously seeing it as a real derby game for us and we want to go out there and win.”
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