Where no woman has gone before
Diana Redman, a member of the national squad, has added a men's league to her diet of soccer.
Playing defensive midfield for Israel's national soccer team and central defender for Maccabi Holon in the women's league, U.S.-born immigrant Diana Redman wanted something more.
The limitations of women's soccer, particularly in the local league, which she told Anglo File this week "is still in development," are a constant source of frustration for Redman, who says she likes to work hard. Maccabi Holon is "okay for a job," but she has started seeing a sports psychologist to stay focused on her goals, regain that feeling of being "a kid playing again," and keep the frustrations at bay.
Redman found a new outlet recently with Jaffa in the all-male Olim League, as its first ever-female player. The 27-year-old Diana, who immigrated in 2006 after trying out for the national team, found the league established by immigrants three years ago through their Facebook page, Olim Football, and decided to join "to meet new people."
Redman was looking to play on a men's team. "It's a faster paced game, it forces you to have your skills, because you never want to be the girl on the field who makes a mistake." The high level of play in the amateur league was a welcome surprise. "I had a good workout," she says, and, "the spirit of the guys is as if they are playing for Chelsea or Arsenal."
Redman is used to being the only girl on the field. She grew up playing soccer with other boys, and her earliest soccer memory is playing with her brother and his friends at the age of four or five. As a teenager, playing soccer in the streets of New York, mainly with other boys, was, "the only environment where I felt happy and free."
Her five-year stint in professional soccer in Israel was not something she had planned on. Redman fell into it by chance at Queens College in New York, when the women's team coach happened to see her playing for fun.
The coach, Ruben Young, is a former captain of Israel's national soccer team. On seeing Redman's talent and finding out she was Jewish, he encouraged her to try out for Israel's women's team. Young was "100 percent of the reason" behind her coming to Israel, she says, adding that Young "Is like a second father to me."
Moving to Israel was "life-changing" and "playing for a national team is a great opportunity, even though Israel is not the best national team."
Redman is a person with eclectic interests, a self-described "nerd," who needs education to stay balanced on and off the field. A former track runner at college, she has a BA in social work, an MFA in writing and poetry, and is currently studying towards her second MA in social work at Tel Aviv University. As if that wasn't enough, she also followed in her mother's footsteps to do freelance photography on the side.
Lack of support and interest is palpable at the women's soccer matches she has played in Israel. When the national team played Wales in November last year in Nes Tziona stadium, there were only a few hundred people in the stands. When she scored her first international goal for Maccabi Holon against the Czech Republic in a Champion's League game in 2011, the cheers of her teammates echoed around the empty stadium.
Her travels abroad put Israel's situation in perspective. While matches in Israel get 1,000 spectators on a good day, in France, where the national women's team ranks fifth in the world compared to Israel's ranking of 63, matches draw crowds of 10,000.
"When we go to France, to see a full stadium is an incredible feeling," she says.
Funding is also problematic, says Redman. For most of Redman's colleagues on the national and league teams, their soccer career is supported by another job. "Even if you don't get injured, as a female athlete there is no retirement plan," she says.
Despite the frustrations, Redman sees potential in Israeli women's soccer. "There are a lot of great players, it is just a matter of support and teaching young girls not to settle for what we have right now."
Female role models have been lacking, and growing up, "the feeling was that men are better anyway so your idols should be men." Her greatest influences were the boys she played with in New York. When one friend went on to play professional soccer in Europe, she realized she could do it as well.
Today, she particularly admires Barcelona's Puyol, who "plays with so much heart," and in women's football, the French national team's midfielder Necib is the kind of "calm, simple, smart player" that Redman says she wants to be like.
Diana is keeping her eye on the ball in terms of the future. In the long-term, she is interested in social work, but in the shorter term, she wants to stay on the pitch. Next season, she hopes to play in Germany in the Bundesliga.
In an effort to remedy the lack of female role models in soccer, as part of her studies at Tel Aviv University, she has been taking part in a sports education project for fifth grade girls at the Yarden School in Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighborhood since October. Redman says she may have found her "niche in Israel" in sports education for young girls.