Soccer / A Woman's (Not So) Naked Ambition

Last week, an Israeli news site hosted an incisive discussion about a women's State Cup soccer match. Talkbackers were incensed that the site's editors did not include a photograph of a player who removed her shirt while celebrating a goal she had just scored. Male soccer players who bare their chests after scoring goals are treated indifferently. A female player with no shirt - well, that's another story altogether that people need to behold with their own eyes.

Iris Antman, the goalkeeper for Maccabi Holon and the national team, does not feel insulted. Fans will be fans, she says. If anything, at least they pay attention every once in a while.

Meanwhile, Australian women soccer players decided to promote their sport by posing in the nude. Antman rolls her eyes while reminding that this is not Australia, and female players won't be photographed naked. The very thought sends chills through her body.

So what do women soccer players want? "Some attention, even a little bit of attention," Antman says. Who isn't paying attention? The media, or course. The top women's league in the country features games whose final scores can at times reach 20-0, even 50-0. There is an enormous gap in the quality of competition, or whatever is left of the competition. Who wants to watch those kinds of games? Nobody, including the press. Unless, of course, somebody removes her shirt.

Iris Antman is 34 years old. She has been playing soccer, primarily as a goalkeeper, since she was 16. It is the most feminine position in the most masculine of sports, a soccer expert once explained to me. It involves "containment" and "acceptance."

What does Antman have to do with containment and acceptance? When she let in nine goals against Finland, she was dejected. When her team scored 50 goals in one game (against a miserable Marmorek), she grew bored. She's here for the excitement, both the agony and the ecstasy.

She lives in the Misgav region in the Galilee, and makes the two-hour drive to Holon three times a week for practice. Before practice, she teaches physical education at a school. The first thing she does in the morning is take her four-year-old daughter to kindergarten. She is the only mother currently playing in the women's league.

Is it possible to raise a daughter like this?

She hesitates somewhat before answering. "Obviously it's not easy," she says. "I have pangs of guilt."

But what is the alternative?

"A woman leaves the house to go to work, returns in the afternoon, changes her child's diaper and helps her with homework, and prepares food for her husband," she says. "Later she lies exhausted on the couch in front of the television. What kind of mother would that woman be?"

Indeed, Antman does not see much of her daughter, but "the positive energies" that she derives from soccer make her a good mother, she says. Even her husband helps out a bit.

She has red hair and bright eyes. She will soon swap her blue sweatpants issued by the national team for her black goalkeeper's uniform. She also dashes on a touch of makeup and pulls her hair back into a ponytail. She began her career as a striker. The family initially was not supportive and her friends expressed doubt, but they backed off once the victories began to accumulate.

Her favorite goalkeepers are the legendary Dane Peter Schmeichel and the Dutchman Edwin van der Sar. Both of the aforementioned are nearly two meters in height. Antman reaches just 1.66 meters. Isn't that just a bit too short to intimidate opposing strikers?

She has her own method of deterrence. "I'm very charismatic in the penalty area," she says. "I talk all the time, I scream. I let my presence be felt."

Notwithstanding strength and speed, Antman is convinced that there is no difference between the men's and women's games. The traits of the average Israeli soccer player are known: He's lazy and undisciplined. The females? Due to the substandard playing conditions they are forced to contend with, they are more ambitious and hard-working. Much also depends on the coaches. "If a coach talks with a woman soccer player like he does a man, then he has no chance," she says. "She'll just tune him out."

What is needed is finesse. But does finesse have a place in soccer? There is as much finesse in soccer as there is in the Likud central committee. Well, perhaps a different brand of finesse. Women, Antman said, do yell curses like the men, but they do so gently. Women are also better at coaching young girls than men are at coaching boys because of that same finesse.

I hung up my soccer cleats before Iris Antman was born. They didn't bring me honor or fame. Nonetheless, I was spurred on by my devilish side to ask her how many goals she thinks I can score out of five penalty kicks against her. She shot me a look of loathing. She's used to these types of propositions. I'm not the first one to make such an offer. "All sorts of baboons have asked the same thing," she says. In any event, stopping penalty kicks is her forte.

In my great wisdom, I made sure not to bring up this topic again. I did so out of respect for myself, and the glory and splendor of the entire male species.