Anita Asante did not get into football for its politics and the platform it provides. Like most, the Aston Villa center-half loved the game. But when it comes to mixing sport and politics, few can compete with the former England international.
Asante studied Politics and English at Brunel University about 15 years ago and continues to follow developments closely. “Anything socio-political, I’ll try to research and gain more knowledge,” said the 36-year-old. âEspecially with the things that I don’t agree with, I want to understand and arm myself with the right material.
âI have always believed that politics is everywhere around us, that it impacts us in our daily life and if I have the opportunity to speak positively about things that impact me, the people around me or the society , then there is no harm in that. “
Asante became an organic football activist. She’s outspoken about everything from racism, sexism and LGBTQ + rights, having first spoken publicly last year about her relationship with journalist and former hockey player Beth Fisher, to the development of the women’s game.
âPeople might say I’m an activist, but I just think I found my voice,â she says. âAs a young player, I might not have the confidence to speak, but I had the points of view. And I didn’t feel like I had the platform or the opportunity, but now I do. I have rubbed shoulders with people who have expressed their point of view and I have seen the impact that has. I want to do this for others. It’s just speaking for others who might not have a voice in or outside of the game. I just always want to strive for progress.
Asante, who has won 70 caps in England, has come a long way since playing cage football at her municipal estate in northwest London. Her arrogant physical education teacher Ms Harding set up a girls’ squad to welcome the multidisciplinary but football-obsessed youngster, who went to Arsenal academy.
âI played every day, in my field, in my cage,â says Asante. âThis is where my learning happened. This is where my innate talent developed.
Today, the girls go through a more structured and invested system and the technical level is increasing, but Asante does not think her path was lower. âI had the opportunity to play with boys and men older than me,â she says. âSpending hours on the ball with them in a way that girls and women don’t get the opportunity to do in their own work environment. It’s a different kind of learning and atmosphere.
âMy learning came from being kicked and kicked against the cage walls against boys and it tested me, it challenged me and it made me want to forever prove myself. I wanted them to respect me, I wanted them to make me feel like they were part of their group.
After 10 years at Arsenal, Asante joined Chelsea before moving to the United States and playing for four clubs there. She then spent five years in Sweden and joined Chelsea before signing for Villa for the club’s first WSL season in 2020.
âThe United States definitely developed me in terms of a mentality,â she says. âBefore, it was like: what is it to be professional? What does it look like? What does this require? What were the expectations? I didn’t really know. I knew my environment, and I saw my environment as a performing environment at the time, because we were successful; Arsenal, we were doing things that other clubs weren’t able to do. But then I got to America and I realized, “Oh my God, there’s more to it than that.”
âSweden touched me both on and off the pitch. There have been environments in the past where you could be 18 or 16, basically an adult, but still communicate with as if you were a child or if you were in a formal institution. In Sweden, everyone has always felt equal and level. I also liked the social activist side of things there, the way clubs have always had a drive to be part of the community and brought that to the consciousness of the team. It inspired my own personal social activism. I felt like yes, I’m more than just a footballer, I can do more.
Asante had to adapt his way of playing and thinking about the game at Villa, for the first time swapping clubs used to fighting for titles to one who last season battled the downfall.
âI’m not going to lie, it’s a challenge,â she said. âIt’s difficult, probably more from a mental and emotional point of view, because I’m used to being at the best clubs which compete at a different level. But I learned a lot about myself. It also made me adapt my game.
âI have always considered myself to be a defender of the ballâ¦ I haven’t always been able to do it in this team, especially last season, but it made me realize how much more we need to think about the game. game as a whole. , in terms of game management, making more pragmatic decisions to just be tough and secure as a defender and not take so many risks. In teams that score freely, you as a defender might take those risks because you know you have world class forwards and players who will do creative things and score goals.
With new manager Carla Ward and rookies helping to get the right mix of youth and experience, Villa has taken two wins in five games, having only managed three last season.
âOne of our main ambitions is to reach the middle of the table; sixth or seventh would be great, âsays Asante. âWe need to have realistic expectations of where the club is in terms of the overall experience in this division and creating the identity that will help the team be sustainable and continue to grow in the long term, but I think it is a realistic goal. Anything beyond that would be a bonus.
Get to know the English elite better with our WSL player in focus series. Read all of our interviews here.