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Under the Lights and in the Dark: Untold Stories of Women's Soccer

4.52  ·  Rating details ·  640 ratings  ·  78 reviews
In 2004, journalist and award-winning documentary maker Gwendolyn Oxenham played futebol feminino for Santos FC, Brazil. The team hitchhiked to practice, shared their field with a horse and wore hand-me-downs from the men's team.

If this was Brazil, the mecca of futebol, what did the women's game look like in other countries?

Under the Lights and in the Dark takes us insid
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published September 1st 2017 by Icon Books
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Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Let me start off by saying, I am not a sports person. At least, I wasn’t until this year when after reading an NPR article and noticing that the French team had polka dot jerseys, I decided I was going to watch the women’s World Cup. So now here we are, weeks after the US beat the Netherlands in the final, and I, caught up in a sports fandom I didn’t seek out and don’t really know what to do with, took the logical next step of trying to find a book about it.

This is honestly one of the best books
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is truly delightful book, wonderfully written, telling a variety of excellent stories. Some are about people and teams that I already knew well, but were told with such care that everything came far more vividly to life than I had ever expected. I've read quite a bit about Nadia Nadim, for example, but nothing written as beautifully as her chapter here.

And then there are all the sections that dig into parts of the world and people that you would never otherwise encounter.

This is a great bo
Jul 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book. The GR teaser is a little bit deceiving. I was thinking that I was going to be reading about women's soccer writ large around the world, but what I actually got was much better, which was individual stories about women playing soccer in different situations around the world. The stories are interesting, and heartfelt and these women come from all different circumstances and I loved their stories. I also really appreciate that Oxenham's stories are women that I didn't know of. Th ...more
Liz Mc2
Nov 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
You don’t have to be a soccer super-fan to enjoy this book. If you tune in just for Olympic or World Cup matches, or if you just have a soft spot for “scrappy underdog makes good” stories, you’ll find something to love here.

Oxenham’s book is more a collection of profiles or themed chapters (there’s one on “comeback moms” and another on the work women choose after soccer) than a coherent narrative or systematic exploration of women’s soccer. She has a a nose (eye?) for a good story, and there ar
Feb 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
This is an important read for any soccer fan, male or female. It shows first hand the incredible obstacles female players face as they pursue their dream to play pro. The author speaks with players from around the world who play in leagues around the world and illuminates a wide range of issues in the women's game: money, sexism, motherhood, even religion. The book talks about the struggles of domestic teams, leagues, and national sides. We see the successes and heartbreaks of a diverse group of ...more
Rebecca Thatcher-Murcia
Apr 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Gwendolyn Oxenham's journey through the beautiful and the seamy sides of women's soccer is a wonderful read. If you liked How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization or The Miracle of Castel di Sangro: A Tale of Passion and Folly in the Heart of Italy or any of the other wonderful, wacky soccer books out there, you will enjoy this, even if the injustice in the treatment of women soccer players is frustrating. ...more
Jan 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. The stories told by the players in each of the different chapters relate the strange, unlikely and sometimes downright dangerous journeys taken in the pursuit of playing the game they love - football. Some of the women I'd never heard of, others - like Nadia Nadim, who recently had a brief and decidedly underwhelming soujourn at my team, Manchester City - were more familiar.

The final chapter on the Portland Thorns and their die-hard supporters, the Rose City Riveters,
Lilly Amenson
Great book. Loved learning more about womens soccer. Wish there were more books like this out there. Only critique: it needed another round of review. A couple of errors that would have been caught by additional readers pre print. That being said, still a great great read. Will recommend to friends and likely read again!
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was on a list of books to read after the Women's World Cup. I loved it. I wished I had read it before the WWC so I could have followed the players I read about. Wonderful writing made me feel like I know these players. It also makes me want to be a Portland Thorns fan! ...more
Mar 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Sure, some of these vignettes are more engaging than others. The final section, on women's soccer in Portland, OR, is worth the price of admission. ...more
Jan 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I loved every second of this book.
C.I. DeMann
Apr 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful book. I'm not much of a non-fiction guy, but Oxenham is such a good storyteller, I got caught up in each chapter's topic. Highly recommended for sports fans. Or for fans of women trying to succeed in a difficult field. ...more
Nov 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Literally amazing. I didn't think anything could make me like Allie Long but Oxenham did! Now I have incredible respect for her and am so happy she made the switch to Seattle where she can continue to shine! This book is all about representation. Showing what it is like to be a female athlete at the highest level. The struggle and the tireless work these women put in are mindblowing. Must read! ...more
Aug 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book never got enough attention. Perfectly done non-fiction.
Michelle K
Aug 13, 2022 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful read for both sports fans, woso (women's soccer) fans, and "soon to be" fans alike. I found myself deeply emotional and pausing to consider what I'd just read many times in certain chapters, so on the brink of tearing up. The chapter about the homophobic Christian evangelist team juxtaposed against the stories of queer players was incredibly powerful and it made me so angry to hear how they were condemned, despised, and ultimately ostracized by those claiming to serve God. Th ...more
Ramiro Guerra
Nov 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I am a fan of good sports writing. I will read anything that involves my favorite sports, especially if it digs into the human experience. This book was perfect in my eyes. Gwendolyn did an excellent job of finding great human interest stories through her connections in the sport of soccer.

There are so many memorable characters to latch onto. Homelessness in Europe, African women escaping poverty to chase their dreams of being professional athletes and providing for their families. The clashes o

That's basically what I kept thinking to myself as I read Under the Lights and in the Dark. This book takes you all over the world and introduces you to female soccer players, a few you've maybe heard of and most you probably haven't. Reading these stories gave me goosebumps and made me really emotional about the sport I love so much. The players featured have given up so much and made so many sacrifices to make their dreams come true, or even just to have a shot at tryin
Sep 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This book makes me honored to play soccer and specifically women's soccer. These women are powerful and they worked so hard for a game that was not changing for them. So they became the change. I would not have the love of soccer I do without the women in this book breaking barriers for the generations to come. The journeys were not easy but they somehow still made sure that it would be for others. Words cannot describe how much I love this book! Go read it!!! ...more
Sara Komo
Jul 31, 2021 rated it liked it
2021: This book wasn't very good, but I did really enjoy reading it.

I have to gripe with the women who were chosen to be profiled for this book. I wouldn't consider either Allie Long's journey to the Olympics or Marta's inability to get her country to care about her an "untold story of women's soccer" (as the subtitle of the book suggests). Even Gaëlle Enganamouit's signature lion's mane hairdo was immediately recognizable to me when I looked up a picture of it. And as the author readily admits
Jul 05, 2022 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars. What a banger of a book. I flew through this, and loved every minute of it. I obviously knew about Allie Long, and Nadia Nadim, and MARTA, but I love that this book featured women from all over the world, most of whom I hadn’t heard of. I really really loved how the book was truly global, and not just Americas/Europe-centric. The stories in this are absolutely incredible.

Allie Long and her NYC futsal games, Nadia Nadim escaping Afghanistan to settle in Denmark, Dani Foxhoven and her
Aug 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have long been a follower of women's soccer and just decided to pick up this book one day. I am very glad I did. This book is laid in chapters that are stand alone which means it's just as easy to pick it up and read one chapter or to read several at once. I gobbled it up quickly, sacrificing sleep over the course of a couple nights because I wanted to know the next woman's story just as much as the previous woman's.

The stories also highlight the side of professional sports, especially women's
Jan 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2020
I watched Gwendolyn Oxenham play with her college team, the enemy, when they played my team in the early 2000s. I naturally had no idea that lurking behind that talent with the ball was a talent with words that she would later use to express the things I feel about the beautiful game and its importance to the world. Oxenham highlights just a small few of the stories we never hear about women footballers. These stories are the ones that need to be told over and over. Soccer, to the entire world, ...more
Oct 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library
I am relatively new to women's club soccer, having only really gotten into the NWSL and the FAWSL last year. There is so much I don't know about that side of the game, as I was focused on international play.

This book helps uncover some of what I've missed, from clubs all over the world, to the amount of money a futsal player can earn a night, to my surprise that there is such a thing as the Homeless World Cup, to how an evangelizing Christian team was a respected option for players after the WPS
Jun 30, 2021 added it
Oxenham a former player takes on the job of telling the stories of women's football. Her pieces range far and wide. In the Middle East and Africa a paying football job can support a family while in the west it often means finding another job in order to pay the rent. Oxenham is relentlessly upbeat but this doesn't stop her from looking at the negative namely exploitation of players in Russia and a persistently anti-gay attitude in certain leagues in the US. And perhaps the number one problem- ge ...more
Aug 02, 2022 rated it it was amazing
This is an important read for any soccer fan, male or female. It shows first hand the incredible obstacles female players face as they pursue their dream to play pro. The author speaks with players from around the world who play in leagues around the world and illuminates a wide range of issues in the women's game: money, sexism, motherhood, even religion. The book talks about the struggles of domestic teams, leagues, and national sides. We see the successes and heartbreaks of a diverse group of ...more
Michael Knolla
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Mid-way through their surprising championship run in 2016 I wrote an editorial to the local paper that Rochestarians needed to appreciate what they had in the WNY Flash or they’d lose it. Sure enough the team was sold after they won the title and moved to North Carolina. But those seasons in the stands will always be special to my daughter and son. This book provides a compelling reminder that Rochester wasn’t unique in its failure to appreciate what it has in its professional women’s soccer tea ...more
Mikayla Habibi
Apr 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Is there anything more beautiful than the marriage between futbol and culture? Not for this nerd ;) Sure, it's disheartening to read about the trials and tribulations these huge (like, seriously huge. likeee fangirl freak-out worthy) names in women's soccer have gone through/continue to go through, but admirable in that they don't make excuses or throw pity parties for themselves. They just work for it. Like the classy badasses they are. *hair flip* In all seriousness... favorite line from the b ...more
Danielle Gawronski
Jun 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books I’ve read. It’s a book about soccer, about cultures, about life and it’s difficulties. It is encouraging, motivating, and heart warming. Every soccer player in our country should read it. I loved getting a personal glimpse into soccer around the world and what it takes to play professionally. I know the men suffer the same way the women do, language barriers, strange climates, bottom of the pecking order, difficulties. Not only is the topic thrilling but the writing ...more
Jul 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a quick, enjoyable read. I know a decent amount about women's soccer, and so many of the players here were people I was familiar with, but I learned a lot of new things about them and about other people who I hadn't been familiar with before. I also used to live in Portland and go to Thorns games, and so the final chapter about the fans in Portland was really a nice note to end on. A lovely read about the women's game and how it looks around the world. I'd love a follow up, there are so ...more
Rachel Miller
Aug 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
The more my young daughter gets into soccer, the more I want her to learn about the Martas of the world, not only the Peles. Reading this book introduces you to some of the greats as well as the different kind of challenges experienced by professional women soccer players. The lack of pay is staggering. The lack of opportunities to play is sad. This book provides a lot of details & reasons behind the recent activism by US soccer greats like Megan Rapinoe. I wish we had a local women’s national t ...more
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“In the 2015 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), for the six-month season, the starting salary was $6,842. An NYC men’s league ringer can make more than that in two weeks.” 0 likes
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