“So this is about the beauty of sport, you say? I wonder what you're going to ask me.” Nothing at any rate about the status of women's football, and certainly not compared to men's football. A pointless discussion littered with remarks of increasing stupidity. I am curious about the ‘Girl with the start-stop tattoo’ below her knee. Eindhoven's answer to Vermeer's ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’. Both have a tender gaze that slices right through you. Both appear timid.
Izy Janssens | First-year's Master's student of Biomedical Engineering | aged 23 | ESZVV Totelos Dames 1 | Born and Eindhoven | Totelos committee 2014-2015 | Champion KNVB premier league 2016-2017 | KNVB cup winner 2016 & 2017
“I was very shy. At the butcher's I never dared to take the piece of sausage I was offered. While other children were sprinting through the supermarket, I was still clamped to my mom's leg. But if someone tried to make contact with me, I'd respond eagerly. I had friends, just like any other child. I wasn't odd,” she says laughing. But her timidity did poor cold water on her passionate dreams of playing football. “I was just as good as the other girls in the KNVB regional teams, but I didn't have the bravado to make myself stand out. Sad but true, elite football is for loudmouthed players.”
Raised in the village of Born in Catholic Limburg, Izy became a devout follower of a different religion as soon as she could walk: sport. “My parents took us out of the church community. At first I thought that was a shame; not taking Communion meant not getting a expensive new bicycle. To make it up to us, my parents treated my brother and I to a trip to Disneyland.” God was soon forgotten. But Mickey and Minnie were unable to fill the sacred vacuum. That honor was reserved for the holy of holies: Rafael van de Vaart and Roger Federer.
“I was never a girly girl. Sport was everything to me. The neighborhood seemed to have been designed especially for me. Sporty parents, neighbor girls who played football and a proper goal set up in the garden. My mom even carried on playing football when she was pregnant with me. I was a allowed to join VV Born but only after protracted sessions of pleading; initially my parents were scared I'd be injured. I played in the youth squad with the boys, and from the age of 15 on the women's first team.”
Soon after she moved to Eindhoven, her familiar home team disbanded. The shy girl had to go looking for Team B. “I'm still impressed that I mustered the courage to sign up with Totelos, completely on my own and spontaneously. Looking back, it was the one of the best decisions I've made. The club is now the source of my friendships and more besides.”
Totelos turned out to be a powerful catalyst, drawing Izy’s out of her shell and revealing her personality. “Right from the start the place had a familiar, sociable feel and a remarkable sense of openness. After the training session my team mates invited me to join them for a drink in the canteen. One girl asked me straight out if I was gay or straight. I was pretty taken aback. Not so much by the question, but by the openness.”
“It sets you thinking, you start trawling the internet for information, watching series with a gay theme, and then rethinking. There was this one party where I'd had a couple of drinks and was discussing all this with a 'Totelosser' and I started to believe it. I'd probably have come out even without Totelos but only years later. And without Totelos I'd never have met my girlfriend. Totelos was the sheltered but open environment that I needed.”
Izy's voyage of self-discovery was marred by an unwelcome companion: bad luck. At the International University Totelos Tournament in May 2014 she tore her anterior cruciate ligament. After twelve months of intensive and difficult rehabilitation she decided to get a tattoo as a memento and incentive. Visible just below her knee it is short and simple: two buttons - stop and start. A symbol of her successful recovery. A way of banishing pain. But most of all, a reminder that staying fit is essential to both body and mind.
“Before my injury I was actually too heavy and not entirely happy with myself. So while I was rehabilitating I decided to get totally fit and healthy. I had to - giving up indoor football was simply not an option. At the same time I was doing a board year. That was hardgoing at first but I learned to stand up for myself.” Thanks to her physical revival and blossoming personality, she came back stronger than ever. “Having only recently recovered from my injury, I didn't expect to play on the women's first team. But when the chance arose I seized it with both hands and feet.”
This is the third season in which Izy is displaying her refined technique and robust game-changing play for ESZVV Totelos DA1. This past season the club's top team has won both the KNVB Cup for the South 1 district and the 'Hoofdklasse' title. The absolute climax was the semifinal of the national KNVB Cup - playing against the big girls. “Not only was the match itself really cool, but I thoroughly enjoyed all the preparation and everything related to it. Knocking out premier league teams was the sweetest feeling. I know we lost the semifinal, but our team performance was timeless.”
Besides the fact that a match or training session is a great chance to clear your mind, what makes indoor football so fabulous for Izy is the teamwork. “I'm not a great fan of one vs one. The sweetest thing is to make combinations and score a real team goal. And this is our strength, we are a real team. I live with three other Totelossers. That is the beauty of Totelos; we're a team at work and a team at play. It's why we win so many matches.”
“Whether it is bad and boring for the competition that we win so often? Not at all.” And she's right. Was Mozart ever asked why he spoiled music? Or Rodin why he ruined the art of sculpture? Or Vermeer why he put an end to art by excelling at his passion? Can you imagine? If that had happened, ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ would never have been painted. Or worse still, the ‘Girl with the start-stop tattoo’ would have stopped playing indoor football by now.
Note: KNVB is the Royal Dutch Football Association.
Raymond Starke works at the TU/e Student Sports Centre, in the midst of more than 13 thousand sport card holders who frequently (or less frequently) do sports to their heart's content. Once every four weeks, he interviews a student or employee for Cursor on the topic of ‘the beauty and consolation of sports’.