So there I am, six-year-old Viv running through on goal, one on one with the goalkeeper.
It was the sort of thing I’d practiced hundreds of times with my brother on the side of the pitch while we were watching my dad play – but this time it was different.
As I closed in on goal, the ball was between me and the goalkeeper and then bang: he kicked out two of my teeth!
That’s my first memory of football. People might think, ‘You’re crazy to want to play again after losing two teeth’ but playing football is all I ever wanted to do. I didn’t really do anything else back then – to be honest, I couldn’t really do anything else back then – so it was quite easy for me to go back.
I was probably only five years old when I started playing. Back then, I just used to kick a ball against everything in the house. Nothing on the floor was safe around me! My parents weren’t happy about that… but I guess they grew to love it eventually!
Like I said, my dad used to play football and I used to watch him all the time. When I started watching him he was coming towards the end of his career, so he was probably a bit of a lazy striker by then, but I was still able to learn a lot from his game.
He would always play at No 10 and I think that’s why I wanted to play there as well. My grandad played as a striker too, so I think it’s a bit of a family thing. My brother, Lars, is a No 9 and he’s really close to making it into the first league in Holland right now. He’s 18 and he plays for PEC Zwolle.
He made his debut a few weeks ago and he’s on his way. It would be so cool if he could make it as well. I know my mum would love it. She never played football because she played hockey instead, but she’s probably the biggest football fan in the family.
My parents used to watch every single one of my games and although I can’t really remember too many of my early games, they always tell me that I used to score loads of goals. That, and that I never used to celebrate either. To be fair, I’m not really that good at doing that now, so nothing changes!
I don’t really have one particular reason for not celebrating, I would just say that I celebrate more if someone else scores. Maybe it’s about showing respect to the opposition. Maybe it’s because I’m an easy-going, normal person. I just don’t really believe in doing weird stuff after a goal. Even running away from your team-mates is something I find disrespectful. I will always celebrate with my team-mates because a goal is something you should enjoy together.
I’ve always been a goalscorer, even when I played as a No 10 and playing in the boys’ team. Actually, I can remember when I changed club and started playing for VV de Weide because they were in a higher division in Holland. We played a game against Groningen, a first division club in Holland with Richairo Zivkovic and Juninho Bacuna playing for them. Anyway, we beat them 7-5 and I scored five goals, and then assisted the other two.
I can’t remember any of the goals I scored, but I do remember all of the boys crying because they were the professional club and we’d beaten them as an amateur team. The goalkeeper and the two central defenders were devastated – they’d just conceded five goals to the only girl on the pitch. That was a good feeling.
I was used to beating the boys. I’d played against them since I was five years old but then when I was 14 I had to make the decision of whether I wanted to stay with the boys or go to the top women’s league already. Up until then, I didn’t know that there were girls’ teams and even then I still wanted to play with the boys because the level was way higher. But then I got an offer from Heerenveen.
So there I am, being offered my first professional contract to regularly play against 30-year-old women in the highest level of Dutch football. I was so young that my parents had to sign the contract for me! It was a very big step up, but I think I proved myself in my first home game.
We were 1-0 down and I’d been benched. I’d never been benched before that and I’ve rarely been benched since then actually – and this is probably why. I came on and scored two goals and then we won the game 2-1. A similar thing happened for the national team, too. I played five minutes to win my first cap, so that doesn’t really count, but in my second game, against Portugal, I played 15 minutes and managed to score three goals. I’ve never really been out of the starting XI since then.
I’ve had to adapt a lot, though. Like I said earlier, my dad was a No 10, my grandad was a No 10 and I grew up playing as a No 10. That served me well for the first part of my career but then we didn’t really have a real No 9 in the national team, so I basically became a No 9.
I used to be the playmaker but now I’m responsible for scoring goals. That’s a different type of pressure but it’s one that I’m really enjoying. I’m not an out-and-out No 9, I like to think I’m a mix of a No 9 and 10.
When you’re young and you play as a 10, you see the game differently. As a No 9, you play with your back to the goal a lot whereas when you’re at 10, you see the whole pitch. It definitely gives you a different perspective of the game and what’s happening around you, so it’s just helped me along the way I would say. Even now, if Joe needs me to, I can play as a 10 or a 9. I’ve got freedom to drop in anyway, so it fits me well.
When I was younger, I would watch a lot of men’s football and Robin van Persie was the big example for me, mostly because he was around at the time that I started to watch football on TV. We didn’t get too many English games in Holland, but I was smart enough to find it online and would watch him play for Arsenal and then Manchester United as well.
He was a great example for me and was probably the most influential striker for me. Then there were the other Dutch players, like Ruud van Nistelrooy and Dirk Kuyt, who were big players as well so I would watch videos of them.
I’d always watch the men’s games because when I was younger, I didn’t really realise what was there for women’s football. That’s the thing that’s starting to become way better now. Girls know now that they can play in the national team, they know that they can play for big club teams and it’s good that it’s finally happening.
I didn’t really know that I could do these sorts of things as a little girl. I was just thinking, ‘One day I want to play for Barcelona’. I didn’t have any idea what was happening. It wasn’t until later, probably when I moved to Heerenveen, that I realised there were more leagues. I was only 15 at the time, and I realised that I could play in the best leagues in the world. That was my aim. And right now, the English league is maybe becoming the best league in the world.
The thing is, women’s football in general has improved. America has always been the country who have done it best with equal pay in their national team, having a big league and putting lots of money into it. We felt left behind before but Germany started to grow 10 years ago, England is growing now… it’s not just the national team money or the contracts that we’re now on, it’s everything around the game.
It’s much more professional, there are more teams involved, more quality in the players, the staff… I can live on the money that I get paid for being a professional footballer, whereas before there were players who had to work or study alongside it. It’s a really good development and I hope that it just keeps getting better over the coming years.
Now that the leagues are getting better, I need to make sure that I continue to get better too. I’m never going to be someone who’s the fastest or who picks up the ball and dribbles past everyone from midfield, all my positioning comes from me reading the game and seeing the game properly. I’m instinctive. I guess that comes from playing football for so long and watching literally every single football game that I could.
That’s probably my strongest point, especially when I’m playing as a No 9 because when you’re in that position, you need to have a feeling of where the ball’s going to drop or where you can create a chance. Of course, once you start playing more often, you get better at it. But it’s not something that you can actually learn. You can’t just go, ‘The ball’s going to drop here at this time’ because it might not happen. It’s just a feeling you need to have.
I’m quite a technical player, too – you need that to play at No 9 – but I don’t think I’d be able to play my natural game if I wasn’t able to read a game of football. For me, that’s the most important thing. I hate dumb players. I know that may sound really stupid but if a player doesn’t see the game properly, then they’re not a good footballer in my opinion.
I’m always thinking about what I need to do to become a better footballer. Even when we qualified for the World Cup, of course I was really happy in the moment that I scored but the next thing that I was thinking is that I need to continue playing. I always have these things going through my head during games like, ‘I need to stay fit for Arsenal, I’ve only got six months until the World Cup, I need to keep progressing’.
People always ask me how it feels to score a goal, but for me there’s no special feeling. It’s just, ‘Oh, we’ve scored a goal’. That’s just how it is. Maybe that’s the reason why I’m not a big celebrator. For me, a goal’s obviously a big thing in the game but unless it’s in the last minute, the game’s not over yet and things could change. Some people will say that I’m not enjoying myself as much as I should be, but I’m just focused on the next thing.
That’s probably why I’m not a big fan of the actual statistics, either. The goalscoring numbers don’t really say anything to me but I do watch games back and think, ‘Viv, you lost the ball way too many times’ or ‘Viv, you need to be stronger here’. Because I like football so much, I don’t mind watching it back or watching other games. I just want to be better.
My goal for this season is just to stay fit. I want to make sure that I’m in form, that I score goals, that I create goals. It’s a bonus for me that things are going so well right now. I’m just happy to be on the pitch, I’m happy to be able to play every weekend and that has to be the biggest win for me this season.
I feel like I’ve been doing this for years and I feel very old but I’m still only 22 and realistically I could be doing this for 10 more years. I’m not really looking too far into the future. I’m happy right here and happy to stay here right now. Hopefully we can continue this project in the team right now to keep becoming even better.
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