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

4.52  ·  Rating details ·  478 ratings  ·  61 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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Average rating 4.52  · 
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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 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
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
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
My favorite part was when those beautiful words that originated here in Chicago were immortalized in print: "We all hate Allie Long." Windy City 'til I die.
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,
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!
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.
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.
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!
Aug 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book never got enough attention. Perfectly done non-fiction.
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
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
Adam Windsor
Feb 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, non-fiction, 5-star
An uplifting account of the passion and skill of female footballers (soccer players) from across the world. It doesn't shy away from depicting the problems they face in pursuing their dream (most commonly money, but also the itinerant lifestyle and challenges of living in a new city or country) but it does so principally from an "how these women have endured and overcome them" perspective: a celebration of the grit and determination of these women as they chase their dream.
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book about sports

You don't need to care about women's soccer at all to enjoy this book. The vignettes about life as a pro in the infant stages of a sport are brilliant even if you don't care about what happens on the field. There is culture here, hero journeys and disappointments, labors of love and heartbreaks. Mostly, it captures a sport that's not yet fully commodified, commercialized, and oversaturated.

Highly recommended.
Nov 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a huge soccer fan, I really enjoyed this book. However, I feel that the book could've been made even better by going through another round of fact-checking. For example, Cameroon played China in the round of 16, not the quarterfinals, at the 2015 World Cup. Christine Sinclair was incorrectly called both Cristine Sinclair and a FIFA player of the year winner. Leslie Osborne is listed as an Olympian, but she never made it to the Olympics because of her ACL injury.
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I have ever read. If you love football you have to read this book. Oxenham succeeded in telling how many struggles women undergo in pursuit of her careers and their love for the game.

You cannot but feel for those girls as their go under so many unthinkable things because of the oppression of coaches, low pay, folding teams and leagues and so on.

Well done Gwendolyn and thank you for such an amazing book.
Dec 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The one thing my city does better than any other place in the world- women's soccer. With is both awesome and a little frustrating. Get it together, everyone else! Oxenham's book is wonderfully reported and the stories are inspiring for any sports fan.
A must have, must read for soccer lovers.
Do you like bad-ass women doing bad-ass things in the face of adversity? Here ya go.
May 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful if you are a women’s soccer fan... like me! :) Eye-opening if you ever thought it was simple for a women to make a living as a professional soccer player. Gives a great shout out to the current women’s soccer mecca, Portland, Oregon, and an idea what it will take to create a supportive atmosphere like Portland in other cities.
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to read this book for a while now and I’m so glad I was finally able to! I absolutely loved to read about some of my favorite players and how they fought their way to the top, but it’s also really good to read about how much WoSo means for some players and the fans!
I would definitely recommend this book to every WoSo fan.
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even if you aren’t a soccer fan, this book is incredibly well written and important. It examines not only the role of sports in society, but also the value of women. Oxenham writes beautifully and treats each chapter with grace and humanity. I honestly can’t recommend this book highly enough or think of another book that gave me so many feelings.
Aug 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
An inspiring read about so much more than women’s soccer. I learned so much about the struggle to survive as a professional sport and the indomitable women from all over the world who fight that fight every day with incredible passion and skill. Attending a Portland Thorns game just made it to my ever growing bucket list! ~ Ms Dimmick
Jul 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is brilliant, a great insight into women's football and the struggles and successes some women have had. The American terminology takes a bit of getting used to if you're English ("what are 'cleats'?!") but it's a great compelling read. The chapter about the Liverpool Homeless team in particular was really moving.
Korryn Mozisek
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic read. The book has many critical observations that carry through the chapters, but the organization of the various chapters and vignettes mean there is a wonderful depth that is created about the observations so it doesn't feel like simple repetition. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in women's sports or soccer broadly.
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