With the Women’s World Cup well underway, this summer’s showpiece event has shown the growing popularity of women’s football. There have been strong attendances in France, outstanding viewing figures in the UK and more demand for the women’s game than ever.
However, there is still ignorance surrounding it. People on social media are ready to cut down the game’s credibility and quality at any point, with sexism towards the women’s game unfortunately prevalent in the 21st century.
There are many advocates for equality in football, including Tessa Wullaert. The Manchester City and Belgium forward spoke at the launch of BCW’s #WorldAtHerFeet report, which looks at the developments and current state of women’s football.
Although she recognises the struggles faced, her personal experience in football has been more positive. “Globally it’s been good,” Wullaert says. “I never really experienced something where I thought people don’t want me to play football.”
She speaks about how when she was 15 and playing with the boys, although parents would complain it never concerned her. “Even if I would’ve experienced it I wouldn’t care, for me it was fun,” Wullaert explains. “It’s always been about fun for me, I never really care or listen to what others say, I just try to follow my own path.”
“It’s always been about fun for me, I never really care or listen to what others say, I just try to follow my own path.”
Wullaert has just come off the back of her debut season at Manchester City, after joining last summer from Wolfsburg. She reflects on a mixed season, as the Citizens won the FA Cup and Continental Cup but narrowly missed out on the Women’s Super League title.
“I’m really a winner, so I’m happy but of course I’m also disappointed,” she says. “Apart from the last game of the season, we didn’t lose any games in all three [domestic] competitions, so to not be champions is quite hard to understand.”
City’s sole domestic defeat came on the final day, as they lost 1-0 to an 88th minute winner against eventual champions Arsenal. Wullaert adds, “We started badly after getting knocked out of the Champions League very early on, but then we adapted, got better and scored a lot of goals.”
On a personal note, Wullaert is especially pleased with her debut campaign. “Personally I’m happy, it’s always hard to come into a new team and to prove yourself and adapt to the system,” she says. “A point for me to improve is to get more goals, because I am an attacker and play right behind the strikers.”
While Wullaert has enjoyed playing in England, she has found it challenging. “As a foreigner, it’s harder to go abroad and get your voice heard in the team,” she explains. “You have to prove yourself more when it’s not in your country. In Belgium I have a really strong voice but abroad I sometimes have to be careful about what I say or do.”
An established international, Wullaert is one of Belgium’s most decorated players. She is the Belgian Red Flames’ all-time leading goalscorer with 41 goals, and has been representing her country for the last 10 years. In that time, she has created a number of highlights.
“I still remember my first goal against Russia [in August 2011] and qualifying for the Euros three years ago,” she explains. “Playing for 15,000 people in the Euros against Norway, who we thought we could never beat, and we did. It was our first ever win at the Euros so that was a highlight as well.”
Wullaert scored her 40th international goal in May 2019, yet she is already determined to reach her next milestone. She says, “I’m doing my best and I’ve got 40 goals now so 50 is the next goal.”
It was great to hear such an honest and open insight into a footballer’s life from Wullaert, who clearly has a deep winning mentality. Speaking about her future aspirations inside and outside of football, Wullaert’s motivations were clear.
“I just want to have fun and be happy every day,” Wullaert says. “My goals are getting titles with the team and to go on with the national team as we are, and if I’m still playing, qualify for the World Cup in 2023.”
Tessa Wullaert spoke at the launch of BCW’s #WorldAtHerFeet report, which was unveiled at a debate in London on 29 May with football stakeholders and media present for the presentation of the findings.
I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who made this interview possible: To Burson Cohn & Wolfe for organising the event, Dennis Abbott for inviting me and setting up the interview, and especially Tessa Wullaert herself who spent time meeting and speaking to me. I am truly grateful for the opportunity, and would like to greatly thank Tessa and everyone else involved for making this article possible.