When Nobody was Watching: My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World
by Carli Lloyd with Wayne Coffey
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 2016
Here is a first for Grab the Lapels: a sports book. I was inspired to check out a soccer player’s memoir for two reasons: Fiction Fan reviewed The Perfect Pass, a book about American football, and my adventures watching the Holy Cross College men’s and women’s soccer teams play this fall. I’ve been at HCC for a few years now, but the previous fall I was teaching 5 classes spread out over 2 colleges, so I hadn’t made it to a game before. Fall 2016, though, is a different story. I go to every home game and cheer on current and former students and their teammates. The men’s team is consists mostly of guys from countries where soccer really matters, so they’re pretty intense (and it’s fun to hear all the accents and foreign languages flying all over the place).
However, the women’s soccer team was a dreary thing to watch. I soon learned that the coach only had 9 women to play, when there’s supposed to be 11 on the field. Too many women were injured, so we were short on (wo)manpower. I felt discouraged, as if men’s sports may be better than women’s. After all, isn’t that what everyone says? Women’s sports are a token effort? No one watches them? We even use the adjective “women” (WNBA, for example), as if men’s sports are the default. Then my brain realized I was a jerk and called bullshit. Though the HCC women’s team was dispirited, I wasn’t going to let it affect my attitude anymore. I got Carli Lloyd’s memoir from the library to school my attitude.
In the prologue, Lloyd shares with readers a few things we should know about her: she doesn’t do “fake,” she doesn’t try to increase her social media presence, and she doesn’t sign on for Dancing with the Stars and nearly naked photo shoots with Sports Illustrated. I appreciated this about Lloyd, as I’ve wondered why I see female athletes with make-up and shorter shorts, for example. It doesn’t jive. Lloyd may have a touch of make-up on in her cover image, but she doesn’t wear it on the field. The message is immediately positive for girls and women.
Early on, readers learn that Lloyd has family issues: her parents try to control her career, but she wants to be independent, which I felt was reasonable, especially as she hits her mid-twenties. Lloyd never misses an opportunity to thank her parents for the support and give them credit where it is due, nor does she fail to take the blame when her temper flares. As a result, I trust what’s in Lloyd’s book more because she’s not pointing fingers and deflecting blame.
Lloyd successfully convinced me that no matter her fame, she has doubts about herself. Knowing that a world-class athlete must keep pushing made her relatable and trustworthy in my eyes. She wonders:
How could I have screwed this up? How could this be happening? A year ago I became a gold medal hero and the Player of the Year and now U.S. Soccer doesn’t want to renew my contract. Can anybody tell me how it has gotten to this point?
Never complacent, Lloyd returns home in the off season to train, and even on Christmas day she’s out working with her trainer/mentor, demonstrating how much hard work goes into athletics. The message is work hard, because winners aren’t complacent, a message that translates to all activities.
My favorite parts of the memoir include Hope Solo, a soccer player whose story arcs through the book. First, she’s benched most of the way though a game during which Solo is playing well. Other players on the team apparently lobbied to have her to sit out in exchange for a previously famous goalie who hasn’t played in months. The score of this 2007 World Cup match is United States 0, Brazil 4. Solo goes on television to claim that she would have saved the game and criticized those who wanted her out.
Basically, the woman who replaced her as goalie in the game was well-known years before, but things change quickly in sports. One minute you’re on top, the next, someone fitter has come along. For talking to the media, the entire team shuns Solo. Except Lloyd. As a result, the entire team shuns Solo AND Lloyd, but Carli Lloyd makes it clear that players need to to what’s right, not what’s dramatic. Knowing that Lloyd doesn’t get involved in drama and instead sticks to her principles was impressive and made her seem trustworthy and responsible.
I was wondering how female players may interact differently as a team than male players, and Lloyd addresses this concern:
In men’s sports, people criticize coaches and managers all the time, and sometimes call out teammates too, and it’s not that huge a deal. Things get hot and then it goes away. Often the guy speaking out is even lauded for having the courage to tell the truth. When it happens in women’s sports, though, it always seems to be viewed as a nasty, claws-out catfight. I hate that our World Cup has devolved into this, but I am not going to be part of the Hate Hope Campaign.
Here, Lloyd brings up an important issues. Guys who state their concerns are brave for doing so, but women who do the same thing are catty, bitchy, drama-whores, etc. I’m glad Lloyd outs women’s teams for unfortunately playing to stereotypes, which means maybe we can all move past our double standards.
I like Lloyd’s humility. She never assumes she’s the best player on the team nor that she can make goals on her own. Solo is given credit for “a world-class save” to help her team, for example. To make it clear how her teammates help her look good, Lloyd occasionally goes into soccer replay, during which I read 3-4 pages in some areas describing how the ball was passed and to whom. More insertions of personal moments would have made the book stronger. How do the other teammates interact with Lloyd? How often does she call her long-time boyfriend–and how do they make a long-distance relationship work? What does she do when she’s not training or practicing?
When Nobody was Watching is book meant for soccer fans. If you don’t know the terminology, you can get lost. Here is an example: “It’s a 1-1 game late in the first half when Abby Wambach crosses the ball from the right, through the penalty area toward the left corner, where Stephanie Lopez runs the ball down. Stephanie nutmegs her defender and then toe-pokes a pass back to me.” I was happy to Google terms and learn more about the game, but not every reader will. I also did not look up every term, so I was in the dark a bit. I felt like if I wanted replays, I could YouTube them, but Lloyd’s determination made for an positive read about a female athlete. Continuing the fight for women and girls, Lloyd is part of the group that filed a law-suit against U.S. Soccer for wage discrimination.
Interestingly, Abby Wambach came out with a memoir also published in September of 2016. Was it a race to see which teammate could tell the story of the amazing 2015 World Cup win? I’m not sure, but according to Goodreads, Wambach’s memoir is more personal and less description of soccer. I’ll read her book soon for comparison.