Erin McLeod - Canada
My name is Erin McLeod and I play for the Canadian National Women's Soccer team as well as Vaxjo DFF in Sweden. I have been on the National Team since 2001 and football has taken me all over the world. Currently I live in Vaxjo, which is a small town quite central in Sweden. I am 36 years old and have a contract with Vaxjo DFF until the end of November. For the past 13 months I have had a nagging football journey and as a result have started working on a lot of projects off the field to keep me busy. Funnily enough I have found new passions outside of the game, but still hope to return to the game after the World Cup this summer. They always say you should play as long as possible, and that's exactly what I'm hoping for.
My day to day is quite simple. I wake up, update my sleep, health, and training in an app, do mental training, work on a mindful project for children or design tattoos, go to training, warm-up early (takes me longer haha), then go home, make a healthy dinner, and recover by stretching or using my recovery boots. Sometimes I jam (singing and guitar) with one of my teammates, FaceTime my family, or work on some art. My life is full but also simple.
What has been your football journey up until now?
Well, it's been a long one. I started at the age of 5 and I didn't jump into goal until I was about 13 years old, but never left after that. I have been obsessed with the game since I started...and it has literally taken me all over the world. I identified with the sport for a long time, and through many injuries lost who I was a bit because of it. It has taught me what I am capable of, it has enabled me to work on mental strength, empower and be empowered by those around me, it makes me feel alive, and also has been the source of a lot of heartbreak. I'm 36, I have scars all over my body, and am currently recovering from another injury, but as long as I'm able, I'm going to continue to try and play. It's like anything in life I suppose, you have a chance to learn and improve everyday, and it’s a gift.
Who is in the photos? Where were the photos taken?
These photos are of the Canadian National Team and Vaxjo DFF - training grounds, hotel rooms, teammates, training equipment, and my home in Vaxjo. We were doing a team mobility session with our strength coach. One photo is of one of our Swedes Nellie Ohlsson. I wanted to capture that this team is not fully professional - and what I love about it is that people find a way to make their dream work. We are all connected by the love of the game. They are good people and that’s what it’s all about.
What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with any of the photos?
I tried to show the variety in what I do but also how the soccer world has changed significantly since I started. It used to be a struggle to get equipment, to get recognized as a female soccer player...but now adidas sends me stuff monthly, sponsors contact me to promote their products, and almost 50,000 people follow me on Instagram, I went to a World Cup in Canada where our games averaged over 50,000 fans, and there are better contracts for women - where you can make a decent living.
What is your favourite photo? Why?
I'm 36 years old, and Kailen who is kicking the ball - is the future of goalkeeping in Canada, or one of the keepers that will be. It's a cool shot in that sense...everything in life is temporary, I remember when I was in her spot, the adventures that lie ahead...it's a blessing this game. The hotel and training facility it was shot at is luxurious. As you can see in the other photos, it isn't always that way...
Are there any good stories connected with the people you photographed?
A year ago I was at a different club where I was making 500 euros a month. I could barely afford a place to eat and live. What I love about this club is I'm taken care of, and the best part - I'm surrounded by good people. With the national team, I am surrounded by good people. I've been through a lot in my career, but what I know now is that it is the people that make any experience. Even when I was making nothing, I connected with people from a different country and a totally different life experience than myself.
What are the biggest changes happening at the moment in women's football?
There are a lot. Of course there is the fight for more money, which is happening gradually, but of course the fight for more respect and more support. The attendance of women's games professionally and internationally has increased tremendously and even advertising is increasing as well as more of a visible presence on TV and online. It used to be that it would be close to impossible to watch different female leagues from around the world, but it is improving. Other things like professionalism in clubs and medical staff are all changing.
What does football mean to you? Do you have a message for the next generation of young female footballers?
For so long football was my identity, and will always be one of my biggest passions. What I have recognized is that football isn't who I am, just what I do, and a great way to push my limits and what I am capable of everyday. What I would suggest to the next generation of female soccer players, there is often shame and anger associating with making mistakes - if you can find a way to realize that mistakes are essential for growth and recognize the courage in making them, I think their careers will be much more enjoyable. After all, football is a game.
What are the opportunities for female footballers in Canada?
The future for female players in Canada is bright. One of our youngest players just signed a huge contract with PSG, and one of our players has the highest salary in history for a Canadian player and she is in her early 20's. The NWSL has given our Canadians a lot of exposure but also the success of the national team has put more eyes on our young players opening the doors for them around the world.
What is the future for Canadian women's football?
I believe the future is bright. The last five years we have had great coaches who have worked extremely hard to invest into the full national team but also soccer at the grassroots level. The programs in place to find talent continue to improve and the tactics for all the youth teams are similar to the full team, so right now we are 5th in the world but I believe the future is even brighter. Hopefully the next step is a professional league or a few professional teams in the NWSL.
What do you expect to change after the 2019 WWC?
The attention around specific players and of course the continued growth of the women's game, specifically at the club level. I believe the strong teams in the world also have strong leagues, and hopefully the World Cup will reflect that so other countries continue to invest in their women's programs.
What does your family think of your job as a professional soccer player?
My family has always been extremely supportive. They know how hard I work, how much work it takes to be at the top, how much better the game has become, but also the work I have done to help in a small way to improve our contracts. I am one of the four player representatives for the players union for Canada, and helped add sexual orientation to the athletes’ charter of rights. They have been behind me every step of the way.
What’s one thing you always do before a game?
I write in my journal. I try to remind myself of little tactical things but also, just to enjoy the game, feel the love...for so many years I have stressed out about the game, when really it is a joy to play the sport I love everyday. I am close to the end of my career, so in that sense I know my days playing are numbered, so I'm trying to get the most out of them.