The air is warm, the people are friendly, and from Limassol, where I am staying, it’s hard to find a place where you can’t run to the Mediterranean Sea. I’m living in an apartment in a tourist area with Lianne Sanderson, Danesha Adams and Ashley Nick, all of whom also played in the National Women’s Soccer League this past season.
It’s easy to get swept up in life on the beach, soccer in the evenings and great talks with my roommates until the wee hours. Living here causes me to reflect on this new experience in a country to which not many Americans have traveled.
Women’s Football in Cyprus Is in Its Infancy
In my travels, I have come across varying levels of development, respect and news media attention for women’s soccer. It is often humbling and inspirational to see how those involved in the sport are fighting for it to grow and earn acceptance. The Cypriot women’s league began in 1998. For the past six years, my club, Apollon Limassol Ladies F.C., has won the championship. The team was formed in 2007 and is undefeated for 128 games in Cyprus, including league and Cup games. That’s incredibly impressive, but also speaks to the development of competition. This coming season it is possible that another couple of teams will compete to finish at the top, but the building process is slow.
Learning about the women’s game in this country where women have traditionally not been encouraged to take part in sports has made me gain a lot of respect for my teammates. Many of the Americans here have come to join the team for the Champions League and then leave. The women of Apollon Ladies are here fighting day in and day out to get better, gain respect and advance the sport in their country. This is the sixth year the team has qualified for the Round of 32 in the UEFA Women’s Champions League. If we are able to beat Denmark’s Brøndby on Wednesday, it will be the first time in the history of women’s soccer in Cyprus that a team has made it to the Round of 16.
Cyprus Is Not Much Bigger Than Delaware
I knew Cyprus is a small island country, but I don’t think I quite understood that until I got here. You can drive most places within an hour, which only makes the development of strong leagues even more impressive. Most N.W.S.L. teams draw from areas that are hundreds of thousands of square miles bigger than all of Cyprus.
So Many Cats!
Since I have been here I have seen more cats than I’ve seen in my entire life. According to legend, in the fourth century there was an infestation of venomous snakes on the island. St. Helen brought hundreds of cats over that multiplied and now roam the streets, hopefully still keeping the snakes in check. I’m not a huge cat lover, but I truly don’t mind them much below the dinner table begging for scraps when I consider the alternative to what could be under that table instead of those cats.
In Cyprus, the Traditional Food Is Delicious
This won’t come as a surprise to most, especially if you like Greek food. Cypriot meze is the equivalent of Spanish tapas. Meze means “small dishes,” just enough for everyone at the table to have a taste. But they keep on coming! Every meal I’ve had has included various grilled meats and fresh vegetables. People eat dinner much later than I’m used to in the United States, often not before 9 p.m.
Different Place, Similar Team Dynamics
It is always a challenge when international players join a team composed of mostly domestic players, who have played for the club for many years. I felt this strongly in my short stay in Russia with F.C. Rossiyanka and even a bit when I was in Sweden with Kopparsberg/Goteborg F.C. As an outsider, it’s difficult to truly understand the culture of the new place and what challenges the current players face daily. As an international player, you are hired to bring your strengths to help raise the level of the team, but you also must be sensitive to the status quo and not disrupt what is and has been. Currently on Apollon’s women’s team, there are eight Americans, one Englishwoman, one Dutchwoman, one player from Malta, a couple from Greece — the rest of the team is Cypriot.
The club has invested to win against Brøndby (after Wednesday, the return match in Denmark is scheduled to be played Oct. 16), but I am always aware that there are players who fought to get the team to this point in the competition before I arrived. Some of those players will lose their starting spots, or not even be on the roster for the Champions League games. It is a tough situation for everyone, but as the new players, we must focus on our job — to represent Apollon to the best of our abilities, and hopefully to win.
I feel proud to be part of this club from a small country with such a large heart. We are striving to make history for women’s football in Cyprus!