“All of us players are good friends also outside the squad. We have been playing together through the different youth national teams so naturally over the years we have gotten really close,” says Dutch midfielder Daniëlle van de Donk.
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 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 remember 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.
"Djennah doesn’t care if she plays with boys most of the time — she loves football and plays with anyone
available.” Djennah’s mom
“We play rock, paper, scissors to decide who starts the game.” Djennah
Djennah ́s bedroom is full of medals and trophies she ́s won, which she likes to display as her favourite memories.
If there’s no practice and nobody in the neighbourhood to play with, Djennah plays football video games.
Trainers on for some after-school play with her friend Rodin. While Djennah loves FC Barcelona, Rodin is a huge fan of Eden Hazard.
"I love Neymar. He is my favourite player.” Djennah
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.
"This is one of the only places in the Netherlands where a young girl can give 100% to chase her footballing dream.” Coach Maria
"We all motivate one another on the team, and of course there is internal competition but we are also good friends who have a lot of fun also outside training and games.” Noah
"The team motto of CTO Amsterdam is ‘Work hard, play hard.” Coach Maria
"New students are taken under the wing of older students. Eventually they will become mentors themselves. “We do not only raise footballers, we also raise young women.” Coach Maria
The girls at the academy train at 7:30 most mornings, with another session in the afternoon. It ́s a long day nearly every day.
All girls live together in a dormitory, a short bike ride from the gym. Their daily life circles between the dorm, the gym/pitch and school. “We eat, sleep and train football”.
“It is great to be on this team, because we all share the same goal. We all want to become the best football players we can be and I don’t have to explain what that takes to these girls” - Danique
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.
“We organise everything ourselves. We have great people that support us. We gave our new club a championship in the first season and we continue to be the favourite team to have at club parties.” Nelleke
“Nelleke used to play college soccer in the United States and she is perhaps the best player of the team. But all of us know how to play, and the majority played on a national level.” Sabrina
“We decided that the most important for us was just to play together, without having a trainer or a club who decided how and with whom we should play.” Seline
“I think it is because we’ve played together for so long that you just know who will make that run, or where you will get the ball. You just know." Nelleke
Majella Domstad earn their place at the final, if they win, it will be their second consecutive tournament win.
“As we are all growing up, studying, moving, working, traveling, starting a family, we always have this team to go back to and have fun like old times.” Jolien
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.
“When I grew up I was one of the only girls that played football in my hood. And on the streets there were even less. Now when I go to the pleintjes, I see girls with amazing skills, they surprise me every time.” Rocky
“Street football built my character, my self esteem and my whole being. Without street football I wouldn't be Rocky, I would be Roxanne.” Rocky
A lot of reputations were built and broken right here. Zaandammerplein is where some of the best street footballers in the world grew up on.
To be able to bring street football skill to an 11-sided game is the ultimate achievement. Quinty is also part of the CTO Academy in Amsterdam. “I tell her, ‘When you play for PSG I want your shirt.” Rocky
“Although I didn't make it to the national team and never really succeeded as a player on the pitch, I now do so much more with the game than I ever could dream of.” Rocky
In street football, you don’t get to pick your opponents. You can't be afraid of falling down, getting you ass kicked or called names, on the streets only the strongest will survive.
Quinty who also plays for CTO Amsterdam
“I remember when I saw Djuric Ascension play for the very first time, it was at Nike Park in the Olympic Stadium. He was dancing with the ball and he had so much swag that I fell in love with the way he touched the ball.” Rocky
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.
“Playing for your country, and representing the ‘lionesses’ in a home tournament isn’t something many athletes get to do. Also with the opening game being played in Utrecht, especially for me - I am sure it will be a night to remember. But we are of course aiming for many unforgettable nights.” Shanice van de Sanden
Tickets for the Dutch side’s group stage games have already sold out. “It will be fantastic to play this summer in front of our home crowd.” Lieke Martens
The team putting in work at the training ground in the run up to this summer’s tournament.
After so many friendlies, these players are counting the days to something significantly more high stakes. “We’ve known it is coming for quite some time, we’ve been working really hard and now we are just eager to get out there, enjoy ourselves and show everyone what we can do.” Lieke Martens
“We have got a fantastic atmosphere in the team, the preparations have gone well and we will give 100% for the team and for the fans.” Jill Roord
“For me the tournament could start tomorrow, we are ready.” Jill Roord
"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.
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.
An epic view from inside the stadium onto the pitch as the Netherlands play Japan.
Family comes first. Most players will say their biggest support comes from home. Shanice and her brother after the Netherlands beat Austria 3-0.
Waiting to crown a victor. Young fans celebrating and cheering on the Dutch women’s side during a pre-tournament friendly.
Attendance for women’s matches is ever increasing and these packed stands are proof. For the tournament, expect louder crowds than ever before.
GO HOLLAND. The scarf does the shouting here.
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