Spotlight: Interview with Alba Palacios, the first transgender player in Spanish football

Spotlight: Interview with Alba Palacios, the first transgender player in Spanish football
Following on from Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces LGBT equality campaign in the Premier League, SPFL and EFL last weekend, in this Soccerex spotlight we look to Spain where we speak with Alba Palacios, the first transgender player in Spanish football. Alba, who is currently playing with Las Rozas CF’s top team in West Madrid, shares her views of men’s football and women’s football, explains the process to get her license approved to play as a woman and the way her life has changed after being interviewed by the biggest TV stations and newspapers in Spanish media.

  1. Hello, Alba! First, thank you for your time for this interview. This is a very special one because we went to the same school, Instituto Veritas, and used to play together for the same club, CF Pozuelo de Alarcon, when we were growing up. From those times when you were involved in grassroots in men’s football, what are your best memories?

I always liked running, kicking a ball and scoring goals and that has never changed. In men’s football, I started as right wing and then moved to right back, so I learned my share of tactics but, without a doubt, the best memories are training with friends, socialising with team mates on weekends after our match and some of the summer tournaments we played in the Mediterranean coast. In football, the feeling of being part of a team is stronger than anything else. 

  1. Now, aged 33, you have become the first transgender player in Spanish football. What are your views on women’s football and what is your role in your new team?

Men’s football is more of a contact sport, very physical, with lots of fouls. Women´s football is more technical, less rushed, and I feel that skills play a bigger role in women´s football. As for my role, all I want to do is help the team and give back because they have done much for me. I have played some games as right wing and a few as centre-back against some of the stronger teams like Atletico de Madrid and Vallecas. For me, walking into the pitch with the rest of the girls is already a triumph.

Alba Palacios (Las Rozas CF) and Eduardo Cerdan (Soccerex)

  1. When did you decide to change your gender? How was your personal experience with those around you in the football community?

I wanted everyone to recognise me as Alba, not just my partner, but everyone around me. I used to wake up everyday feeling bad, constantly thinking how that could be when I had all I thought I wanted in my life with my lovely girlfriend and a great job. She told me she loved me and wanted me to be happy and it was then when I decided to seek professional advice with expert psychologists. In therapy, they called me Alba and, for the first time in my life, I felt like my mind and my body went on the same direction and I decided to start the hormonal treatment.

As for the football environment, this was very tricky. In football, when I was 15 or 16, we used to share the pitch with Pozuelo’s women´s teams and I wanted to play with and be one of them but I felt that I could not say anything to my male team mates and others around me. This was still the case when I started the treatment at 30. In men’s football in Spain, someone trans or someone gay does not feel safe sharing their feelings. 

  1. Did you have any issues with your team mates or the technical staff when you were playing football while undergoing the hormonal treatment?

I only told the coach about it. He needed to know because the treatment affects your performance. He understood it and helped me which i am grateful for. I managed to play for the whole season and get back in shape after being away of the game for years. This helped my transition into women’s football.

Looking back, I think it is funny that some of my team mates started calling me ‘samurai’ because I let my hair grow and at some point it was very long. 

  1. Talking about the women’s game, you have mentioned in some of your previous interviews that some voices within the women´s football landscape have been a bit critical about your case. What have they said about you and what are your thoughts?

Well, you know me well and I have always run very fast and I still do. This is something that I trained in school and in football training sessions when I was growing up. I wasn’t the most technical player so the more reason to train like this to be able to play and compete. Now, they are saying that I have an advantage coming from men’s football because of my speed and strength. To those, I say that, when I was in school, as you know, there were some girls that played volleyball that sprinted faster than I did. Some weeks ago we played against Atletico’s second team and, I can assure you that, for a fact, that many of their players were as fast as me, if not faster. 

  1. How was your transition from men´s football to women´s football?

Believe it or not, I feel like I am learning a new sport! Not one completely new to me, obviously, but women play in a different way. The game is more technical so I need to improve my skills. Our coach has helped me understand these differences, adjusting to the tempo of the game, making a pass more accurately and keeping possession. On the other hand, I have helped my team mates train with more intensity which shows when we play against other teams. 

  1. The Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and the Madrid Football Federation (RFFM) gave you the license to play as a woman even though you don’t have a female ID yet. How did you manage to get the license and how can the bureaucratic process be improved?

In Spain, it takes two years to get your ID declaring you as a woman after the hormonal treatment. However, there is a grey area when it comes to the license because you can just play if you change your name. This is what I did, I registered a new license when I changed my name from Alvaro to Alba but I only did it once I had completed the treatment and my testosterone levels were as low as most women’s. I consulted both federations and presented my tests. Most girls have between 15 and 70 Nanograms Per Decilitre (ng/dL) and I had 16 ng/dL so they understood my case and I am grateful because I am a woman and I can play as one even though I still have to wait for the ID to state the right gender.

In terms of processes, a simple standard medical test to measure testosterone levels, in addition to the medical tests that the Madrid Football Federation requests from all players, should be enough proof to allow you to play as a woman. Of course, if the state could hand the new ID faster, that would help too and it could easily be done. Two years is a very long time in football.

  1. Your case was picked up first by Spain’s most read sports newspaper, Marca, then by numerous dailies and finally by the biggest TV stations. How has your life changed after being all over the news on prime time in a country that lives and breathes football?

I could have never anticipated the coverage my case has had on media. Luckily, my partner, my coach, David Herrero, and the club media manager, have been by my side, helping during this whole process. It was overwhelming at times but recently, I heard that a child has just used my case to be able to play as a transgender as well and it is very rewarding to see that I have helped someone already. I know that more will follow and I am happy that I chose to lead the way to help them.

  1. When you played your first official game as a woman, a filming crew from TVE, Spanish national TV, recorded your game and you were lucky enough to score. What did you feel in that moment?

I felt shocked for a moment, as if I was in a dream. For a few seconds, I thought of everyone that supported me and the effort I made to get there. Then, all my team mates came and hugged me and I celebrated with them and with my coach and it finally felt real and normal as it should.  

  1. At Soccerex, our audience is the business side of football including professionals from clubs, leagues and federations which drive the game forward. What message would you like to send to them?

I understand that there is a huge gap between men’s football and women’s football in terms of audience which means that the most part of a marketing budget goes to the men´s game. However, there are millions of women out there playing football and watching women’s football. More and more you see media broadcasting women’s football and sponsors finally understand that there is a huge potential to support the women’s game.

My message to brands is that women´s football is an opportunity for them and my message to regulators such as federations is that they need to be the first to set up a bigger budget to promote women’s football, work towards equality and shorten the gap between the two sides of the same sport.

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