“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”
I am sure by now a lot of readers are wondering how the heck I ended up playing in the French Féminin Division 1. Currently there are four Americans playing here in France. There’s me (obviously), and the other three are Megan Rapinoe (Olympique Lyonnais), Tobin Heath (Paris Saint-Germain), and Lindsey Horan (Paris Saint-Germain). These are players from storied collegiate programs such as Portland and UNC, all with some type of USA national squad experience.
And then there’s me. Definitely the first and only time in my career I’ll be on such a short list with such exceptional players!!
So how did a goalkeeper from a small Division 1 university with no national team experience wind up in one of the strongest leagues in the world? Looooong story (you’ve been warned), but basically it boils down to a little family history, some random coincidences, and a bit of good luck!
Before last year, my knowledge of all things “French” was extremely vague. I had never visited the country nor taken any French classes in all my years of school. My only point of reference was my uncle, who is from a small village in the department of Lozère. He met my mom’s sister many moons ago in Paris, and they have been together ever since. Growing up, I loved listening to them speak French together, hearing his stories about growing up in France, and of course, his amazing cooking!
Fast forward to 2012, and I was getting ready to leave Houston to play my first season of international soccer in the Scottish Women’s Premier League. While saying my goodbyes, my aunt mentioned that if I got the chance to do any traveling I should try to visit Robert’s family in France. I had only met them once, almost ten years before at my cousin’s wedding, but nonetheless I was intrigued by the idea, so my aunt gave me their contact information before I left.
After arriving in Scotland, I found out the league took a five-week break in the middle of the season. That meant I would have roughly three weeks to do some traveling (my favorite!!). I hadn’t forgotten the idea of visiting my extended family in France, so I reached out to uncle’s niece (lucky for me, she is an English teacher so no language barrier!) about the possibility of a visit. We corresponded about schedules and logistics, and worked out a plan. After spending a week exploring London with a friend, I would fly to Nîmes, meet my cousin and be introduced to France! I was so excited to experience the place my uncle grew up and get to know this part of my family better.
I could write a novel about all the wonderful memories I have from my first visit to France! It was amazing spending time with my uncle’s family and getting to see the town where he grew up. I stayed with my cousin and her family; they were absolutely wonderful and made me feel so at home. They took me all over the Lozère Department, from the Gorges du Tarn to the L'Aubrac Plateau. I spent a night in Montpellier with my uncle’s brother, and then I headed to Paris to meet up with some university friends. I was there for three short days before making my way back to Scotland for the remainder of my season.
During this trip I totally fell in love with France, the amazing culture and all of its history. After my brief visit, I was interested in learning about landscape of French women’s soccer. I was aware of OL and PSG, but I wanted to gain a better insight into the league as a whole. After doing a little bit of research, I found there was only one American goalkeeper playing in France. She had played her college soccer at a smaller school as well (and CRAZY coincidence, with two girls I played my club soccer with), so I was curious how she ended up in France. I thought “what the heck!” and I shot her an email introducing myself, telling her where I was playing, and asking her how she ended up in France. Libby answered all my questions, and we continued to correspond over the rest of the season.
SLIGHT DIGRESSION: This story is also an awesome example of the “people helping people” mentality that exists in women’s soccer. When first starting out on this journey, I sent countless emails and Facebook messages to other American footballers that had experience playing overseas. And I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for the advice and help those players took the time to give me. This is just one more example of players helping each other out through sharing information and personal experiences. People helping people y’all! It’s a small world!
Here’s where the crazy coincidences really begin. During the European offseason, I wanted to play with an American team so that if the opportunity to play overseas came up, I would be fit and game ready. I got the chance to play with the Houston Aces, a team that completes in the WPSL Elite. One of our first preseason games was against the USA Under-23 National Team at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. Before leaving for the trip, I researched the girls that had been called into camp to familiarize myself with the opponents. And you wouldn’t believe it, but Libby, the goalkeeper playing in France that I had kept in touch with, was going to be there! I immediately wrote her to let her know we would be playing against each other!
We had a couple chances to talk before and after the game. We spoke about the end of her season in France and her experiences with the national team. We were in agreement that we both wanted to continue playing abroad in the next season. Mostly it was great to finally meet and put a face to a name!
So a couple weeks later, when I got an email from FF Yzeure’s president, I was completely shocked! After the end of the French season, Libby decided to explore her other options, but told the club she knew of an American who was interested in playing abroad. I sent the club my film and my CV, and the rest, as they say, is history! I finished up my season with the Aces, and a week later I arrived in France to take on the D1!
So there you have it! The world works in mysterious ways sometimes (talk about an example of being in the right place at the right time!) It started with a vacation to visit my uncle’s French family, randomly discovering a couple degrees of separation from an American player in France, and of course, being lucky enough that another player would throw my name out there. Thanks Libby! :-)
That’s the “not-so-short-story-but-really-you-should-hear-me-tell-it-in-person” version of how I ended up playing for FF Yzeure! Next week I’ll be writing a lot more about the football side of things (since I know that’s what most people want to read about!!) I’ll fill y’all in on what it’s like playing in Yzeure and what an average week is like for a footballer like me.
We are four games into the season, and while we haven’t had the strongest start, every week we make improvements and get a little bit better. Every week is a new week with a new opportunity. I am simply taking things one day at a time, one match at a time, trying to be the best goalkeeper I can be! Allez Yzeure!
Peace, love, and Francophiles unite,
|About The Author - Catherine Fitzsimmons|
Professional goalkeeper for Foot Féminin Yzeure in the French Division 1. Previous player at Forfar Farmington FC (Scotland SWPL) and the Houston Aces (USA WPSL). Inquisitive adventurer uniting my first great love, football, with my passion for exploring. Proud alumna of Rice University (Go Owls!)
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