Frida Andersson was smitten by football as a young girl, and has gone on to forge an impressive career as sporting director of the Swedish women’s club Växjö DFF – becoming a shining example for female football leaders everywhere, and cherishing the opportunity to serve the game she adores.
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Every month, as part of its #EqualGame campaign, UEFA focuses on a person from one of its 55 member associations. This person is an example of how football promotes inclusion, accessibility and diversity; his or her story exemplifies how disability, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and social background are no barriers to playing or enjoying football.
There are barely enough hours in the day for Frida Andersson to do what she loves most of all – mixing football business with pleasure, and constantly stoking the fires of an eternal love affair with the beautiful game.
The football bug arrived early for Frida. Born in South Korea, she was adopted as a very small girl by a Swedish family that eat, slept and breathed the sport. Her father was a coach, and her older sister was a player… so the bug could never really disappear. Now, the 38-year-old pours her heart and soul into her duties at Swedish women's club Växjö DFF – where she is a popular figure and shining example for female football leaders everywhere.
Frida is Växjö's sporting director, and has been a proud contributor to the club’s recent ascent to the top Swedish women's league. It's not unfair to say that her heart beats 24/7 for the club in the town of some 66,000 inhabitants in southern Sweden's Kronoberg County. Putting up posters, managing volunteers, booking pitches, seeking sponsors, dealing with agents, looking after players, handling transfers – the phone never stops buzzing, as she makes sure that everything runs smoothly. "It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that football is my life," she admits… and she wouldn't have it any other way.
The earliest memory she has of football shows how she connected with the game. "I was six years old," she recalls, "and I was with my father and sister, who played in a team which my dad coached.
"I was standing next to the bench with my match kit on, which was more like a long dress on me, hoping to come on as a substitute. But, really, I was just there as a mascot, because my sister is six years older than me.
"I was too little – my dad made several substitutions and changed a lot of players, and I stood there crying, because I wasn't allowed to come on and play."
Frida was given a thorough grounding in the joy and excitement of football, simply because it was ever-present in the family, who lived in the village of Rydaholm. "The village had a population of 1,500 then," Frida remembers. "So there wasn't much else to do besides football.
"My whole family was a football family. My dad was a good goalkeeper. Then he met my mum, and she started playing football… then they had my sister, and she started playing football. And then I came along… and I started playing football! It was something we did every weekend."
The moment that Frida knew that she was totally smitten by football came in 1994, when a fine Swedish team won the bronze medal at the FIFA World Cup in the United States. "That's when I felt in my whole body that I really loved this sport," she says.
"Football is fantastic – it's a language that unites people. You can throw a football around, and no matter where you are, which country you're in, people will start kicking it around and playing with it."
Frida played football as a youngster, but realised that she would never reach the higher levels. "I played because I wanted to become good at football but, in retrospect, I was too lazy – I didn't like to run very much!"
Nevertheless, she knew that she wanted to stay in the game – "You don't need to be good at football as player," she reflects. "You can also do good things off the pitch."
So, Frida set about gathering football experiences off the pitch – becoming sporting director of the Rydaholm club's men's team. Then, she was heavily involved in looking after some 150 volunteers at UEFA Women's EURO 2013 in Sweden. Växjö was one of the host cities, and once the EURO had passed, the then newly-founded Växjö DFF – who had heard about her qualities – approached her to become sporting director.
Since then, she has never looked back. Frida is the beating heart of the club, sharing in its rise to the Swedish women's football elite. "I really wanted to be part of a team and be part of something big," she says. A particularly cherished goal would be for the club to take part in the UEFA Women's Champions League.
What, in Frida's view, makes a good sporting director? "For me, the most important trait is to have the ability to understand people. You have to listen to what they say, and you can't be scared of making decisions – at the elite level that I'm now at, you need to think with your brain and not your heart if you want to get results. That can be a challenge – it's very tough to have to tell a player: 'Sorry, you can’t continue with us next season.'"
Frida enjoys a positive relationship with the club's players. "I'm a very social person," she says. "I get the impression that the players can come to me and talk if they have something they want to talk about, or if they want help."
It's been a challenge to prove herself – a challenge that she still senses today in her management role. "Being a woman in this sport isn't just difficult on the field," she explains, "but off it, too. The main issue is that some people question your competence. They don't think that I've got the same knowledge that they have, especially since I haven't played football at a high level.
"The biggest difference between working as a sporting director as a woman and working in the same role as a man is that you have a lot more to prove than men do. Women have a lot more pressure on them. You have to prove that you can handle the job.
"It can be tough for [people] to realise that I'm very knowledgeable about football too. There can't be many people who've seen as many games in their lives as I have, both men and women included."
Why is it important that bodies such as UEFA are striving to get girls and women involved in football? "Because of the solidarity it creates," Frida states categorically. "Aside from meeting friends, it gives you the opportunity to become part of something, and to feel that you're good at something.
"You get to become part of a wonderful community where everyone is welcome. I don't think other sports or anything else come close to creating relationships between people as quickly as you can with football."
Humility shines through when Frida – a keen piano player and singer in her spare time – is asked if she feels like a role model for women or girls. "That's a question for other people to answer," she responds. "However, I think that I can set a good example, showing people that there are other things that you can do in football besides being a player.
"You can be a step back from those things and still be part of an organisation, organising things that need to be done. I also say this to people who suffer career-ending injuries – and for example, if you're 45 or 55, there are still jobs for you on the administrative side of things – we need more women in those roles at clubs.
"My advice to anyone who wants to be part of football," Frida continues, "is to become part of an organisation, get in touch with a club – there are so many different things you can do. In football, you're equally important, no matter what role you've got.
"It doesn't matter if you're a sporting director, player, chairman, manager, or if you're working in the offices or washing the kits… everyone is equal within a football organisation, because everyone has a vital role to play in order for the club to be run properly."
Does Frida subscribe to the values promoted by UEFA’s #EqualGame campaign? "Absolutely," she answers. "On the football pitch, we're all the same.
"It's not about your religion, where you're from, your heritage, your ethnicity, or whether you're old or young. That's what is beautiful with football."