Concepción Sánchez Freire, ‘Conchi Amancio’ was, on a 25-year span, the historic star player for Spain’s Women’s Football. She was raised and started to play the sport on the streets of Malasaña quarter, in downtown Madrid. Conchi was sensational and flashed a big impression since the very first match of women’s football in Spain, December 8th. 1970, in Boetticher Stadium (Mercacredit v. Sizam), where she played on Sizam’ s side that maiden female match when she was only thirteen.
– Please, tell the story from the very beginning, when you started to play in Malasaña…
– I was raised in 2 de Mayo Square, attended school near of there… and always played football with the kids. My father loved football, he was an amateur player and used to bring me to ‘Dehesa de la Villa’ field almost every single Sunday. In those years, only way to play the real game was with the kids, in kids’ matches… I had good skills and never wanted to play as goalkeeper. And off we go…
– Was that normal in that 70’s Spain, a young girl playing football in the streets?
– People started to stop by those games in Malasaña. There were some football scouts in all those street spectators. Some of them ran to my home and spoke to my parents. I was young and a bit small, but I had real good playing skills. The Boetticher match resounded big all around Spain.
– That was the day when they started to call you ‘Amancio’?
– Calling me ‘Amancio’ was a journalist thing. I dont even know how they made into Boetticher because 30 minutes before the match… there was almost nobody, and we started with 8.000 people on the stands, out of nowhere. They called me ‘Amancio’ (Famous International Real Madrid wing) because I dribbled real good on the pitch, like Amancio did. To be frank, my playing buddies in 2 de Mayo were my true idols.
– What you might call ‘The Street University’.
– We in our generation were street players, of course. And my mother said it, yes, that ‘street is the best university or college you can get’… now I know it’s not enough, that you need education, structural instruction… putting all together.
– Coming 1973, you jumped off to Italy, already as a professional player.
– I was only 15 years old… and it just happened after we’ve promoted the sport with a number of games and regional selections tournaments. For me, Italy was a dream came true. I was making enough money to keep on going with what I had on my mind. Those times, there was a lot of discrimination in Spain. I felt bad. In Italy I started to felt like it was a fair game with me. Since the very begginning, I was in love with Italy.
– Did they pay you in Gamma 3, to start, a 75.000 pesetas yearly fee (perhaps, some 600 British Sterling Pounds in the 70’s)?
– My first deal in Italy’s Gamma 3 was less than that; that was reporter’s stuff. Basically, I was doing what I liked. I had time to study… now I have three Graduations, Holistic Therapist, Sports Direction and Language Teacher. This last one is my current job here, in Bristol.
– That was happening to you while Women’s Football was founding in Spain its own organisation and the future was merging.
– I was the first Spain`s National Team Captain and Castilla Selection captain, too. First Spain’s National Team came selected through picks from Regional Teams and I was the Castilla captain. Thas was the Selection which got to play in Italy.
– Did they call that a ‘Clandestine Selection’? Doesn’t sound too good…
– History depends on how do you look at it. In Spain, they look at that as an unofficial thing, but here in England, they banned women’s football for 50 years and then, some years ago, the FA asked for official apologies to all Media and Women’s Football Movement, for not to have recognized women’s football during all those years. I cannot see how in Spain still there’s no an official recognition and everytime it’s coming down to the ‘clandestine’ stuff. They should recognize us, what we did, and beg for excuses. As of 1971, in Spain we could have the first Women’s World Championships. All those prohibitions brought and still are generating… that we in Spain could be in top three positions of World Rank for Women`s National Teams… and still we’re not there. You have to go to the roots. They should recognize all what we did because all those bans of the past brought on so much delay. I can see that from my personal standpoint because, living out of Spain, you can compare. Here in England they asked for those apologies. And in Spain, ha, ha, they still keep on talking in interviews about ‘clandestines’ and so on.
– When you’ re talking about ‘apologies’, who should ask for those and to whom?
– We’ re talking about ‘Historical Apologies’, even if ‘apologies’ sound a bit strong. But, in England, FA asked for these sort of excuses just for not recognize Women’s Football and putting on hold for 50 years the women’s football improvement. By this, people started to play much later. And we in Spain had same problem, more or less, so we’ve been condemned to rally from behind because of the lack of progress that we»ve had with Spanish Federation. In England they have a ‘Hall of Fame’ for their international players, and this Hall of Fame is , of course, open for women’s side and oficially recognized by FA. Spain’s Hall of Fame is only for men and I cannot say that’s fair. We’got like two-three missing or lost generations, either, which now must be recognized by Spanish Federation.
– It’s like a missing link, a blg hole or a shame that you, Conchi ‘Amancio’ never could make an official appearance with Spain’s National Team.
– With all my career… they did not care about that. I was not called for the National Team in the early Eighties, when I was on my highest peak of peformance; probably one of the top players in Europe, if not the best. Afterwards it was lack of endearment and respect. Should I’ve been called, I’d go even with no payments at all, just to play for my country. Even if this is bad enough, it’s not only that. Then, there came players like Laura del Río or Verónica Boquete…they have been awarded the acknowledgments. I am happy for them… but to not have seen recognised my career it’s something quite unacceptable and scandalous. I was Spain’s first captain for Women’s National Team. Not only that. I was always very proud of be a Spaniard and to play for my country. If it wasn’t by Spanish Media, all that we accompished in the 70’s and 80’s would be forgotten as of today. That is unacceptable for all of us, and for, with my 23 years career. To talk about the ‘pioneers’ is not enough. To acknowledge what we did would be very important because of our roots. The new generations of Spanish female players grew up without knowing a word about us, nothing.
– A new world it’s coming with all these new generations…
– I should say that my experience is much different. I went off to Italy and all around there we had many more fans watching games than now on. We had full pages of coverage on newspapers, so comparisons are difficult. Now, you have Internet and all kind of stuff, but… when I arrived to Italy, newspapers and radio networks reported about us on a regular basis. We had in Padua an average attendance of 3.000 people for every single game and that was in the 70’s. Today, things have changed and girls get every day on practice My Italian teammates were all workers, like almost every girl in the 70’s. That’s the story of football because men’s football also begun with the workers, in the factories and all this. Now, in England, in women’s football we have generally good academic girls… society has evolved. Definitely it’s a social issue. But, in those times of ours… we didn’t receive the acknowledgements.
– Not everything has changed for good, I guess…
– In our times, our stock -Women’s Football- was absolutely a novelty of a thing. We got like lime and sand, ups ans downs. There were people who came out with tremendous criticism to us and another ones that were very fond of us, you know what I mean? In the beginning, everything was a novelty, like I’ve said. And so, perhaps we were getting extra repercussion. As of now on, all is ‘politically correct’, a lot of people believes many things but still get quiet: you have to be very careful because you cannot get into this thing talking bullshit if you have a position. You read some comments and still it’s awful what they do think about Women’s Football. But, with all the improvements on the sport, even on FIFA&UEFA parts, with the girls playing at a level never seen… the stadiums still are empty.
– Those stadiums that were almost sold out in Spain, in those days of old, with ‘Folklóricas vs. Finolis’ games, ‘The Ibéricas’ movie…
-‘Madre mía’. Vallecas Stadium in Madrid was fully packed. It had an tremendous repercussion in those years, with those female ‘vedettes’… but it did not so good to women’s football as sport. We played our game, we were a bunch of very young girls, playing top-level. We were the generation that should had to play in Selection ‘til mid-80’s. But this generation of ours was completely lost and the generation which came after that… already have missed our tracks. They did not have us as a models to follow and build something. It was much damage done and still we’re paying the bill, even if nowadays, Spanish Women’s Fooball has climbed so high. I follow the sport, I watch everything… the quality leap is big, but still it’s costing us a lot to clear the gap with another countries. Because we do have in relation to these other countries some kind of Black Legend’ (quotation marks, please), that needs to be cleared, and only can be fully clear when you got recognized every people who was working in it since the beginning.
– Conchi, which Spain do you enjoy the most, this one of nowadays or ‘that’ Spain of the 70’s, even if you have to leave the country in your days of youth.
– Look, what I dislike the most is this stuff of ‘poor little clandestines’. I strongly dismiss that. We played in packed stadiums almost every time. Zero clandestinity. It’s like today’s politic stuff. Independentist Catalans are riding a black thing of Spain that I feel it’s some horrible thing. It depends on how you tell the story, but if you want to put a black cloud over the Spaniards and have them down for the rest of our journey, that will be OK, but Spain is a great country, we have great artists, great Literature… and we, Spaniards, have to start to ginger up ourselves. To be a bit more proud of ourselves and put our assets on the highest value. Here, I bring it on the Women’s Football, too.
– ¿Which ways can you foresee to improve the current state of things?
– You see… you cannot compare female football with male’s football, that’s impossible. But you have to go and introduce some changes, because if not there is almost no way to steppin’ forward on the markets. If you want to fully professionalize the Women’s Football, that costs a lot of money… and where you can get all this funds if there is no people attendance to the stadiums? Here, we have no people with good marketing vision for Women’s Football. It’s all about visual changing. Bringing on the table that it’s so appealing… as a women’s sport. You need people with that eye in order to create a new niche and, therefore, attract the public. There’s no more room under the current terms, it’s unsustainable, I believe. It needs a long term planning or envisioning, getting a new marketing strategy. But I am foreseing no people able to implement this strategy… because in my opinion there’s nobody coming from the roots, with the capacity to really check where we’re coming from and then link those roots with the current growing. All, in order to bring Women’s Football to the next stage.
– In Spain we have the new fresh Liga Iberdrola, the new Women’s Iberdrola League…
– Liga Iberdrola is great, is fantastic. It’s the best thing that could happen, to have a top-level competition in Spain. But, again, there’s no people watching games on the stands. They put money, that’s it. In Italy, in the 70’s, we had also sponsors to keep on going with Femminile Calcio, Women’s Football… but at the end of day, you always need spectators watching the matches. In Bristol Academy, England, I’ve worked altogether with a young coach, Mark Sampson, who afterwards was FA Women’s National Manager. We spoke about everything should be changed as a whole unit. In England, they are struggling in order to improve the quality of the product, in order to attract more people. There is no real sponsorhips and then this is not sustainable. So, you have to prepare people in order to changing a lot of things in the whole picture. I know it were a couple of allegations against Sampson, but I dont really know how things are going to end in this point. I saw nothing strange at all in Bristol Academy times. Mark’s a good manager and I was pretty much surprised by all this mess. You know that he’s not working anymore with FA National Team but you can imagine if in Spain should happen something like that: a guy with those kind of allegation never would be fired. Spaniards and English are very different.
– Your playing years at top level were over after a knee career-ending injury…
– Not playing international matches gave more room for play on top team level. I had a very bad luck with the knee injury (ACL torn, actually). They convocated me for the Spanish Selection affer some Spanish Tv Reporter, in 1983, travelled to Italy and questioned to Italian Women’s Manager and Italian journalists, too. They all said: «No one understands how Conchi never has been called for Spanish Selection». They started to calling me after those interviews were coming out. I was almost thirty, but I was enthusiastic and full of hope and illusion. So, they called me, there I came… and went down with the bad knee. Seems like kind of Black Legend. The Negativity, you know. I recovered alright, played one year in the first Italian Indoor Football Championship and we went all the way to win the title. Then jumped to England, signing with Arsenal Ladies… but the knee was there. I had 36 and if not by knee… I still could go quite a bit ahead: by then, I was in pretty good shape, but the knee was hurting me a lot and that was it.
– If not a football player, do you think you could have star shining as an athlete in another top level sport?
– That’s a good question. Before being a football player, I was and I am a good sportswoman. I was, maybe, one of the all time best football players in the world … not just for being a footballer, but for being an absolutely good sportswoman. All that stuff of today’s schools… I played basketball, tennis, handball… I was gifted on every sport. Running, I loved it. As an individual, I had a good natural ability and it was the foundation to be a football player. I do think I’d might be able to play any sport: tennis above all. Nowadays, I do gymnastics and play tennis table. At my age and with the knee situation, you know better. Here in Bristol, still I came sometimes for play with the kids like back in the old times, when I got into Plaza 2 de Mayo and asked: ‘Can I play?’
– You are a great Real Madrid fan. President Florentino Pérez has no women’s team in Real Madrid. How do you feel about that?
– Yes, Real Madrid will be always my team. And Sergio Ramos, their Andalousian captain, my favourite player. Before, I liked Michel Platini, he was so classy. About women’s football in Real Madrid… they should see and they will know better. I read some article telling about President Florentino Pérez wants to start with ‘cantera’, the quarry, the youth teams. Also, I root for Arsenal.
– ¿Who´s the best female player in the world in 2017, Conchi?
– ¿Do I have to pick a name? In Euro 2017, I did not see a player who really thrilled me. Nowadays, players are not those individualistic ones, I do not see those players of the old that were facing the adversary straight on, driving and playing vertical, going for the dribblings; them growing up in schools now, had merging with this mentality of pass-the ball-first. It´s a bit boring. I really dont have one player who amazes me. Yes, it’s a real good level out there, but I wouldn’t say there’s anyone special. I feel like mind-blanked on specific names.
– Isabel, your sister, was also a very good player. Was she so good, really?
– Isabel was a very good player, yes. She has the opportunity to get in Italian League with me. The team was amazed and loved the chance.They were waiting for her… but she choose to marry and now she has a family, three sons, grandsons… at the end she went for another way of life. Yes, she was a real good football player. But my sister is not a typical housewife, not at all. She’s a boss. She preferred to be married and have kids. She made all the way forward through a good business company with her husband. She was working, her whole life, did not have a real wish to leave Spain and setting into a foreign country. Reality is that in those times not all the Spanish girls would have bet for going abroad.
– Your teams came across some adventures on the road, on those trips when you travelled with that Selection, back in the 70’s…
– Ha, ha. Happened so many things… there came with us Rogelio Núñez, (‘Marca’), who was very involved, and AS’ Miguel Miró. We used to stay into the plane, eating bananas. In some occasion, Rogelio and Miró got us off big trouble because money was finished and we had to go back to Madrid. I felt always pretty much OK with Madrid media because they always treated me so good. By then, as Spanish Selection, we played a couple of matches in Italy -Padua and Udine- with the stadiums sold out everytime. By then, Italian internationals were authentic rol models to me.
– Those were romantic times, the good old days. Ain’t so?
– ¿You think I am romantic? Well, memories are wonderful, yes. Those were General Franco’s days. We worked pretty hard, but we enjoyed it at the end of the day.I use the past, but I am not living nor thriving on it. I use the knowledge and the input of my experiences, positives and negatives to live in the present and to give shape to the future. As a person,I am reinventing myself one day after another. I don’t think, neither, that I was a rebel. Mine, it wasn’t a case of rebellion or defiance. Rather, it was the case of being somebody different, as I was: this is not to be a rebel. I like the motto of your website: ‘Alacontra’. ‘On the contrary’. (‘Being against’, maybe).
– You foresee yourself coming back to Spain and working in your country for the sake of Women’s Football progress?
– That would be nice. ¿Why not? Madrid is in my heart and so is Spain. I belong there and there are my roots. I have lots of experience and I feel like I can help to carry Women`s Football to the next stage. I am a positive and charismatic person. I do believe that we can stage a Women’s World Cup in Spain in the next 10 years. Coming February, I’ll get round back to Spain. For the moment, I will keep doing my life, giving English lessons in Bristol Schools for Spanish personnel there. Then, I teach Italian, too. But I feel like I bring on the good fortune.