If you deal with football in the ACSL (Austrian College Sports League), you can no longer avoid the name Anika Fürnsinn. The 25-year-old medical student is the only woman among all the boys who is fully committed to the MedUniSerpents football team. In an exclusive interview with Krone.at, the newly crowned Austrian championship winner gives an insight into her football life surrounded by men in Austria’s booming college league.
“Krone”: Anika, why did you decide to play football? Fürnsinn: I was only part of the fan community, with two girls who initiated it and were therefore often on site at games. I really liked that. At that point a lot of my friends were still Serpents players. Then, at a winter game, I thought to myself, while it’s nice to cheer for my buddies, I’d love to be on the field and live out this sport. It’s a very physical sport, but I really enjoyed it. It was something new, a team sport for the first time. I also love a challenge and used to take part in challenges during the quarter change from time to time before I joined the team. I’m the type of person who quickly shouts, “Yes, I do!” How was the first training session with the Serpents for you? Before the first session, I had already announced that I would like to come by. I also checked in advance with the head coach at the time whether it would be okay if I trained with them. He said it wasn’t a problem and told me, “If I say it’s okay, then it is.” Certainly some of the boys thought to themselves: “They won’t go through with this anyway”. But I showed up. It was the most strenuous training I’ve ever done in my life, but that was exactly what was cool and did me a lot of good. I remember that I was a little intimidated, but I didn’t feel completely lost because I already knew some of the players on the team. A very strong feeling that I felt in the first training session and actually carries through to this point, is the urge to have to prove myself – not in a negative context, but rather that I want to prove and show people and myself what I can do everything. Is it your first time playing in a mixed team? Yes, my first football training session was also the first time that I trained or played in a mixed team. I was very curious to see how it would go and had great respect. Before football, I tried all sorts of sports, but they were individual sports: circus gymnastics, swimming, skiing, horseback riding, martial arts. What position do you play? I’m the wide receiver for the Serpents, which means I’m the receiver of the ball. It’s a position that I say I can manage well. I have to be careful to be fast and agile. Those are the skills I should have to demonstrate in this position. As far as my size and strength are concerned, I would place myself in the middle of the field compared to the men. Sure, when it comes to power, of course, you can always do better, but I’m good at it as a receiver. How does it feel for you, as the only woman on the team and as part of a clear minority in the league? It doesn’t particularly strike me. While it has long been said on social media that I’m “the only woman who actually acts,” it always felt very surreal to me. I was and am part of the boys and everyone is treated equally. There was never a difference between me and my teammates in the team, we all did the same exercises on the field. Also, I don’t feel like I’m alone, we have a strong sense of community as a team. In no other sport have I ever experienced how much support is given to one another. Everyone thinks it’s really cool that I’m there. I see myself as part of the team from the start. Although I have to say that new players are always a bit surprised that there’s a girl on the field and therefore overwhelmed by how and whether they’re allowed to play against me. The gender difference is there, that’s a fact, and this creates an inhibition in some people that probably wouldn’t be there with an opponent of the same sex. They don’t push it as hard as the rest of the players, I understand that. But after two or three training sessions, this is no longer the case. It’s just a matter of getting used to it and they quickly realize that I don’t make a difference myself and that I always grab hard. A lot of people don’t put up with that, so I have to be able to take it. What’s the process like before games, for example in the dressing room? That will certainly surprise some, but we’re all in the same dressing room. First of all – for example on the matchdays – the capacity is not enough because there are always several teams on site. Secondly, it doesn’t bother us anyway, since it’s actually our daily bread in medical school. Also, when I get to games, I’m almost ready to go, and when I shower, I wait for everyone to finish. Attention is paid to each other and to the fact that I am also fully integrated in this area. The preparation for the game is therefore the same for everyone, right from the start. What is your advice for students who are also thinking about starting college football? I would definitely recommend it to every student and of course every student to start playing football. I’m always happy to see more women in the league and, of course, in my own team. But I have to say that you have to be able to take it, know your own limits and, above all, just be in the mood for the sport. It’s not just about us women, it’s about everyone thinking about getting into football. Everyone should realize that football is a sport you live for.Selina Schwarzbach