Every set back is a set up for a comeback
This season has held a lot of firsts for me. I have had new experiences both on and off the field, some great, some good, and definitely some not-so-good. But in our last game, I experienced something no soccer player every wants to experience.
First red card.
That’s right. As if this season could get any more frustrating, as if my team could come across any more bad luck, I recently discovered that yes, both those things are entirely possible. The shock is slowly wearing off; I honestly never thought that I would get a red card in my career!!
Back in January, my team had a game get cancelled due to bad weather and our game field being closed. At the time, we all agreed it was a good thing. We had a couple players banged up, plus my new American teammate had not been cleared to play yet. Having it moved to the middle of March would give us time to let some players recover, as well as give us more time to prepare. We were playing another team trying to avoid relegation, Hénin-Beaumont.
This was a really important game for us. When the second half of the season started, we had four home games left to play. In order to have a chance at maintaining our Division 1 status, it was imperative to win all four of them, against Muret, Hénin-Beaumont, Arras, and Rodez. Leading up to the rescheduled game, we had been playing with more confidence, and it was going to be a good opportunity to play against a similar team.
It was setting up to be the same story as so many other games this season. We were truly dominating, just unable to put the ball in the back of the net. In the middle of the first half, the referee called an extremely questionable foul against my team right outside our eighteen-yard box. That foul led to a goal, and we found ourselves down 1-0. But at halftime, everyone was super positive because we had been playing so much better than the other team: we knew that it was still possible to win the game.
Early in the second half, we put in a goal and evened the score. It was a tight game, very physical, but I have to be frank, the referee seemed to be doing her best to negatively impact the game. Normally, I do not comment on the quality of the referees. I believe under normal circumstances, perhaps even with a below-average referee, a team should be able to overcome the officiating and get the job done. In a perfect world, a referee shouldn’t even impact the outcome of the game! But this particular game, just wow. I don’t recall ever playing a game where a referee negatively affected the outcome the run of play in such a blatant manner!
With about twenty minutes left in the second half, a defender of the other team committed a pretty egregious foul right in front of our bench, leaving our outside midfielder lying in a heap on the field. Our coaches and trainer were irate, and our players, thinking the whistle was going to be blown, stopped and some headed over to aid our hurt teammate. However, the referee made no call, so the opposing defender cleared the ball as far as possible. Our defenders, having expected the call, were all out of position, leaving the attacker all alone with the ball at her feet, dribbling at pace towards me.
So what was a goalkeeper to do? I did what I have done one thousand times before: made myself as big as possible, waited for the forward to take a long touch, and dove for the ball while trying to protect the goal. The forward’s touch went wide of the goal, and instead of jumping over me to avoid injuring me or herself, she continued to run and caught herself on my outstretched arms. It was at this point I heard the referee’s whistle. I thought to myself great, we’ll a get a free kick since the forward dove like she was going off a diving board. But when I saw the referee point to the penalty spot, I seriously couldn’t believe it! No way. I headed to the goal to get ready for the penalty; it would have been the fourth one against Yzeure this season. But after a long pause, as an afterthought it seemed, the referee whistled me over, reached into her pocket, and pulled out a red card.
There are no words to describe that moment. I was absolutely, one hundred percent floored, speechless, flabbergasted. One of my teammates had to actually tell me it was time to leave the field! The crowd was going absolutely mental; they had become increasingly frustrated with the officiating as the game went on, and this was simply the icing on the cake. I had to watch the rest of the game from entrance tunnel to the field, inconsolable and emotional. We ended up losing, 2-1, getting scored on from the penalty that I caused.
I wish that I could say that getting red carded was the low point of the game. Unfortunately, the referee let the game get so out of hand that some incredibly unbelievable events happened on the field immediately following the game, involving the opposing coaches, players, as well as the referee. Since I was not on the field and didn’t witness everything first hand, I won’t go into detail about what happened. All I know is that different things were said, tempers flared, and it did not end well. The federation is still looking into the event, and hopefully the situation will be resolved and everyone involved will be dealt with accordingly!
So that is how I received my first (and hopefully last) red card! It’s interesting how officiating trends vary from country to country. For example last year, in the American women’s professional league, the NWSL, during the entire season, exactly zero goalkeepers received red cards. Already this season here in the French Division 1, there have been three different goalkeepers sent off with direct red cards. Tough times for us keepers! As per league rules, I must serve a two-game suspension, meaning I will miss two our remaining five games.
After initially being super upset about all of it, I took a step back and really analyzed the situation. It was fine for me to be frustrated about it, but at the same time, there is nothing I can do to change the outcome of what has come to pass. There is nothing I can do about the quality of the officiating in our games, and being sad about the fact I got red carded isn’t going to change the fact that I have watch my team play in the next couple games.
So I let myself be sad for a bit, then I changed my mindset and am now looking at this situation as an opportunity. Having the next couple weeks without games will allow me to focus on fixing some poor habits on the technical level during training, rather than just focusing on big-picture tactical scenarios. I can also really push myself and try to improve my fitness since I won’t have to taper for games. Lucky me, it will be like preseason all over again!
I am also trying to be really supportive of the second goalkeeper who will be getting her first opportunity to play this season. I know how frustrating and hard it can be to go so long without playing, so I want to try to help her as much as possible over the next couple of weeks. When I was in university, I spent the better part of my four years as a backup goalkeeper. I remember how difficult it was to play when the starter was injured, both the external and internal pressures that come with trying to step into someone else’s role. I wonder how it would have been different back then with more support from the other goalkeeper on my team. The last thing I want is for our second goalkeeper to feel as insecure and scared as I did the first time I had to step in for my team back then, so I am trying to avoid that scenario at all costs. So we have been working on different parts of her game, such as distribution and goal kicks, which have become a bit rusty over the course of the season. I want her to feel as confident as possible going into the next couple of games!
Experiencing something for the first time can be rough. New experiences can be wonderful, but they can also be uncomfortable and force us to deal with things we maybe don’t feel ready for. We can fight these new things tooth and nail, or we can try to accept them and grow from them. Did I ever want to get a red card? Absolutely not. But it happened, I am dealing with it, and I am moving it on from it a better player. And on a more exciting note, I am going to have another ‘first’ experience! Our coach has given us the weekend off, so I am headed to Amsterdam for the first time in my life! I am really looking forward to exploring a place I have never been and making some new memories!
Peace, love, and to finding the silver lining,
Professional goalkeeper for ASPTT Albi in the French Division 1. Previous player at Foot Féminin Yzeure, 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!)