“‘I’d had to fight to get women’s football recognized in Norway and I wanted to continue that internationally’, said FIFA (the international soccer organization) delegate from Norway Ellen Wille in 1986, decades later. ‘So, I took to the stage at the FIFA Congress and pointed out that women’s football (soccer) was mentioned nowhere in any of the documents. I also said it was high time the women had their own World Cup and took part in the Olympic Football Tournament’. ”
“FIFA president Joko Havelange agreed and the wheels were put in motion to change this. A test event dubbed the FIFA Women’s International Tournament was held in China in 1988. Twelve teams from six countries were invited to take part in the tournament, which Norway won, defeating Sweden 1-0 in the final behind a goal from Linda Medalen. The most important result, however, was the overall success of the tournament.”
In 1985, the United States women played in their first international tournament in Italy — “The Mondialito” — with a 1-0 loss to the host country, with the official Women’s World Cup held in China in 1991 (which was won by the US) — the first of three World Cup titles, to go with four Olympic gold medals.
And so it began, culminating in this month’s 2019 World Cup in France, all chronicled by New Paltz alumni (2008) Jeff Kassouf — co-written with Kieran Theivam in their new book: The Making of the Women’s World Cup (defining stories from a sport’s coming of age), published by Great Britain’s Robinson Press.
Kassouf, who was a varsity starter at New Paltz High School for four years (playing for then coach Frank Alfonso) and was a second-team Section 9 All-Star his senior year and went to Division 3 Utica College, playing soccer and majoring in sports journalism, has a well-established rep to report on these events, working the 2012 London Olympics for NBC-TV/Digital, where as part of the production team he managed the website for table tennis, shooting, weightlifting and equestrian events, and soon after moving into soccer for NBCsports.com. He stayed with NBC until 2018, when the NBC digital subsidiary he was editing out of the United Kingdom (UK) was sold to another company and he was laid off.
So Kassouf, who had founded the digital women’s soccer website “The Equalizer” in 2009 — “I did it on the side” — decided to put everything into the site. In March 2018 he started a subscription model from the website, which allowed him to develop the site, gather a staff of writers and give it his full-time attention. It was all about women’s soccer.
“There was a lack of attention in coverage of women’s soccer,” says Kassouf, “and for awhile we were the coverage. We shifted our focus away from hard news to more of an analysis of the women’s game.” Which led to the book, just in time for the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, where Kassouf is as of this moment.
“It’s a compilation of stories about the history of international women’s soccer, written and edited with a London colleague (Kieran Theivam), with each chapter dedicated to a team and specific World Cups,” adds Kassouf, mentioning a foreword by English star player Kelly Smith and chapters on “The Early Years” (the pre-World Cup days — quoted above), Marta’s Time to Shine (about the Brazilian “magician” who is the leading World Cup goal-scorer of all-time) and Lifting Up A Nation From Tragedy (about the 2011 team from Japan, in the World Cup just three months after the Fukashima nuclear disaster brought on by an offshore earthquake and tsunami), among others.
But mostly it is an appreciative look at the game of women’s soccer. “In the moment, as the game has evolved, it is hard to appreciate what has been accomplished by these women over the past 30 years. And since soccer is my passion, it is the best thing that ever happened for the sport itself,” says Kassouf.
“Playing in a World Cup was the highlight of my career,” said Kelly Smith in the foreword. “Yes, there was heartache, but to say you played in two World Cups, and to say you have represented your country and have been on that journey, is a dream come true.”