FEMALE IS FOOTBALL: SABRINA COLS

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Introducing Sabrina Cols. Sabrina is the newest member of the KTTP writing team and our feature for this edition of Female is Football. The Netherlands has long been an epicenter of not only how football is played but how life reacts and exists around it. To help chart the modern rise of the Dutch female footballer, we sit down with Sabrina Cols: marketer, a player, the lioness behind the scenes helping grow the game through her experiences with Nike + the Dutch FA.

Follow Sabrina: @sabrina_cols

Photos: @bybrando

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m Sabrina Cols, 35 years old and I come from Holland. I originally grew up in a city in the east of Holland and moved to Utrecht, where I currently live, during my studies. I got connected with the game of football through my cousins, because they were always outside playing. So when I had the chance to join another sport, after swimming lessons and martial arts it was quite logical that I would join a football club. My mom found a great club and I joined when I was 11. I’ve never stopped ever since.

What was the presence of girls and women’s  football growing up. Was it common?

For everyone starting in the 90s, it was there: girls and women’s football, but it wasn’t as big as it is now. In Holland you also have the opportunity to play mixed football, which means that you can join every club. That got a lot of girls started in that time. My club had enough members and could therefore also organize girls teams. 

Were these games televised? Were they hard to find and watch?

When I started to play there was hardly any women’s football on television. So you’re absolutely right. It was not broadcasted and the Dutch Women’s team at that time was not participating at the big tournaments. So I had to watch Eurosport to see a little bit of international women’s football and that started during the Women’s World Cup in 99. Especially the USA women’s team stood out for me. They were playing for big crowds, winning the tournament in the end. Really special to see that on tv and to see all these great players from the different countries at that stage.

How hard was it to watch?

It’s really nice to nowadays see the attentions for the women’s games during the big tournaments. At that time I would kamp in front of the tv and try to catch a glimpse on Eurosport to follow the Women’s games during the big tournaments. Players like Mia Hamm really stood with me, with her great technique and scoring great goals. The following years the USA women’s teams made it easy to follow them, because they were really active and into presenting themselves. To me the team that set the tone and really showcasing how you can do that as a team, as players and of course always combined with great success and winning prizes. 

What part did style in football play into your life?

Growing up you always see your cousins, friends and the kids at school who wear cool things. In Holland we didn’t have the school uniform or anything like that, so we could always express ourselves from a very young age. Wearing whatever you like. If you are a football player, then you also tend to look at what the football players are wearing and how that meshes with your own style. Sneakers growing up was a big thing. I think that’s definitely something that was as important as wearing the best cleats.

Did you have a favorite brand? Or more of a variety?

Back in the days I like the old school ones: the Air Max Lights, [ones] I was always playing football in the lunch breaks,  so so I always needed to have that second pair with me as well. So I would not to not mess up my good pair. I still remember wearing white and baby blue LA Gears, red velvet Kangaroos, the Kill Bill yellow Puma’s during high school. But Nike’s were my favorites. Those are the shoes that I remember.

Now that we know the soccer side of things, Can you talk about what you do for a career?

I started working as an independent [sports and culture consultant] in 2017. Before that, I worked for 10 years for Nike and the Dutch FA. So my background is pretty much in football and the sporting goods business. At Nike, I started with a retail marketing internship and after that I had multiple jobs within the company. My thread within my Nike career was that it was in a way connected to football. At the Dutch FA I was a women’s football marketing manager.

Some of the great memories from my Nike time was meeting the Dutch women’s national team when they got their first women’s fitted kit and supporting the first women’s football photoshoot back in 2008. Introducing also Anouk Hoogendijk (former Dutch international) to Nike. My last gig at Nike was as a kids- and women’s football project manager. 

A dream ofcourse to work as a professional in football. Nowadays I’m working as an independent also really exploring other worlds. So I’m still doing projects in football, but I am also working on arts theater and dance-projects and a social impact-project.

How did your football journey start?

I just grew up loving football. I had a great time playing season after season. With great memories of winning prizes, even playing abroad and just having great laughs with my teammates. At some point, I just realized that I maybe was not that good and interested to make it to the top on pitch. So I had to see if I could pursue another career in football. Sharing what I learned and enjoyed on a professional level. Looking back it’s really cool that I managed to do that. I ended up working for my top two companies. Giving a real pulse to Dutch women’s football and work on kids and women’s football within a big multinational.

I’ve been playing and watching women’s football for so long. And I just couldn’t understand why companies like that shouldn’t pay good attention to it. So I am hoping that I played a part in giving energy and help translate how you can make women’s football work professionally. Whether you are a big sports brand or a federation. Not forgetting also to motivate the players, whether they are internationals or young girls starting, clubs and other people involved on how they can also play a role in promoting the game.

What was it like in the early days of working in women’s football at Nike?

Growing up as a young football fan Nike to me always had the best football stories and the best commercials starring Brazilian team, great players such as Ronaldinho, Henry and Zlatan. So of course I would love Nike to do the same for women’s football. But when I started the first conversations in 2007 at Nike Holland there was still a lot to win on getting to know the sport: how many girls and women are playing, how is it developing, who are the big clubs, who are the players to watch, how many people are watching games. So in other words: is the sport really a sleeping giant and how interesting it is business wise. But it was definitely at that time when I got a real good understanding of what sports business means, what makes great product and even better storytelling. It was not the right time, yet.

What was it like in the early days of working with the Dutch FA?

Yeah. I  was probably the first full-time women’s football marketer, in Holland, in Europe, maybe in the world haha. When you’re in it, you’re just working really hard and doing your best. But if I now look back, I started in 2008 on the parttime project women’s football and I helped develop it into a marketing category with people working full time and many more colleagues involved by 2017, it was quite unique. 

At the Dutch FA at that time, it was really important that they presented girls and women playing, from grassroots to the Dutch national team, in the best way possible. Mind you that at that time the mindset on women’s football was not as good as it is today and the Dutch women’s national team was not as visible and successfull. So we first started with making well though of marketing communication plans, creating it with and for the players, using campaigns around the big tournaments and using quality productions to also shape that image of women’s football. Really inviting girls, women, parents, clubs to join and play football. And setting the stage the women’s national team and getting Dutch fans excited for the other Orange team. 

It’s just really cool to think of how it all came together. A lot of girls and women started to play football, female membership was growing constantly. Giving the Dutch women’s team, the OranjeLeeuwinnen (translated: Orange Lionesses) their own identity and a stage to really present themselves to the Dutch fans. We developed and organized the women’s national team games into the national women’s football events. And the final big step was to win the women’s EURO 2017 bid and making Holland the host of the European Championship. Good times.

What does style mean in terms of empowerment/femininity ?

Well, I think to me style means identity. A really big gesture was, for instance, the orange lioness in the crest of the women’s Dutch national team in 2007. Nike changed the crest from a lion to the lioness. Not just having a new kit, with all these new technologies and an even better fit. It’s those elements that makes you want to wear it even more. The players felt really proud wearing that crest and the story got even more elevated when they won the Euros. Really amazing.

It goes beyond being proud of playing for your country if you know that something is made for you. What you wear fits better when you know it’s made with your insights and embodies your thoughts and dreams. That feeling, that’s what makes your style and what makes your identity. 

What’s different now that you’re working independently? Tell us about your project “Blood in Blood out.”

What I like about working independently today is that I can do a variety on football storytelling. I love the football culture. I love it when arts meets football and vice versa. So I am proud to part of the “Blood in Blood out” project. What they create is a shirt and they evolved it into an even bigger story. The elements in the shirt represents a career, the roots of your family or just the clubs that your a massive fan of. The piece of art that comes out not only looks cool, but is also really makes strong very tangible statement. I love that.

So with Blood in Blood Out, what are you roles?

I do research on players and story opportunities. Once that’s in process I also help with the production side. Whether it’s organizing the meet up with the player or the photoshoot. Another part is to help connecting with magazines or other media platforms to see if we can team up and present the story around the shirts and players. So it’s those three things: research, production and publicity.

How would you describe your work personality?

Sometimes I just describe myself as a creative multiplayer, someone that you always want as part your team and who can play on multiple positions in any stage of the game. Especially working at the Dutch FA, I started women’s football as a project, so I had to prove that it could be bigger than that. So I had to act as a marketing multiplayer: be a product manager, do event promotion, create and produce promotional tools and see if I could join or create teams to help grow the work. Crazy, I did it all. So yes, it was really great that the team became bigger and more colleagues got involved to join the fun. That’s where I learned to be very flexible, present what can be done, help create great teams and teamwork.

Brands you like right now?

I think for me, I am wearing the Veja sneakers at the moment. They are a very conscious sneaker brand. I think that’s really cool. I like Patagonia for the same reason. It’s very nicely designed. It’s great quality. And they present themselves through the world that we should cherish and love. I try to be conscious in what I am buying and to be smart in how to combine that clothes and shoes that I have. Nowadays I like the brands that do the same. 

Closing thoughts on the industry and pushing the women’s game forward?

Yeah definitely. I feel very lucky to have met and worked with many great players, coaches, clubs and people in football. It’s the people and the opportunities through the game that makes it a lot of fun to work on. I think there’s still so much to tell and win. As for the players, the teams and everyone involved just keep going and keep having fun. Nothing is stopping the women’s game to evolve and as it is part of football it is part of a never-ending beautiful story. 

PATTA’S PITCH FOR CULTURE

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As a black man born and raised in Italy, my life, identity, culture, and influence were something I had to fully commit myself to. Being raised by Ghanaian parents and knowing my origins kept me grounded though. Most of the influence I got from outside of my home was from stars on the pitch that looked like me. Players like George Weah, Marcel Desailly, Edgar Davids, Stephen Appiah, and Lilly Thuram just to name a few. The rest of my inspiration flowed through music and what I considered stylish as an adolescent. All these helped me connect and move in confidence in a place where people of my background had to make things happen without handouts. Some made it happen with a ball that afforded them a platform highlighting their culture, while others like the Sabajo brothers Edson & Tim — leaders of the Patta streetwear brand — gradually connected the dots and grew from success to success until they reached where they are today. After interviewing Edson & Tim, there was so much to share that I think will connect dots for people to see the game of soccer, hip hop, and culture itself as a greater gift than what it is portrayed to be in the past.

If you’ve never made the connection between football and streetwear culture or thought about hip hop having an influence on the global sport you have been missing out on some highlights. No worries though, the experience isn’t a limited edition sneaker, there is more room to be filled.  This movement has been documented in the form of threads that tell stories through collaborations by your favorite brands, crafted by the culture mavens at Patta.

Patta—the Dutch street brand created by Edson Sabajo and Guillaume ‘Gee’ Schmidt, is more than what meets the eye. The brand has been able to do something that not many can. They have nurtured and remained true to their roots and foundation while simultaneously being leaders of creative innovation in streetwear culture.

What makes Patta so special is the stories that live within their creations. This value they stand on pays homage to their roots of Surinam (the country in South America where their parents migrated from), life experiences from street football, music, and sneakers. It doesn’t just end there though. Patta thrives as a story of neighborhood heroes claiming their territory and living what they considered cool in their neck of the woods. Edson and his brother Tim Sabajo, represent what it means to be trendsetters and the notion that holding your own in a world where proving yourself gives you a pass in your neighborhood. Sounds pretty familiar right?

In America, you’ll find a basketball court close to every neighborhood where legends were made. But none compare to the Mecca aka Rucker Park where you can’t step foot on the court to compete unless you got game or a superb sense of style. Well—imagine that same type of culture and pressure, but in Europe. The sport being football and the game being played by people who don’t all look like you—yet coming from the same struggle as immigrants. There was too much happening in their world to sit still. Edson and his brother Tim grew up in Holland as Ajax fans and were heavily involved in soccer, but not just friendly matches. Instead, they were entrenched in street football where you would play against some of the most skilled, toughest, and flashiest players.

“So you play outside and every hood, every block has like a basketball court, but it’s a football court and you come together and we all play football. Then you went from one court to another court to play the other guys. So you know each other, but then you see each other on the pitch. So on the field you will see each other and then you look at each other like what do you wear.”

The top performers became mavericks and mostly built their reputation on the pitch by being top players, which then transcended into the streets. There was no love for the ones who could not hold their own in the game of soccer or lacked style while playing it. The Sabajo brothers quickly figured something out about getting a rep and the culture they loved so much. So they took advantage of it by meshing their love for the game with music and making sure that they stayed fresh in the latest gear.

“Sometimes you end up seeing guys you see in the club, but you also know them from the pitch would say oh, he is nice with the ball. He was a nice football player. He was nice with that. Plus he had style, you know, that’s how you connect.“

The hunger and grind are just different. The Sabajo brothers had to be playing for something bigger than themselves. Being raised black in Europe is already an experience of its own, but adding the pressure of carrying the torch and leaving a mark is a whole different ball game. Imagine living in the Netherlands, facing the challenges that come with being black and trying to craft and lead a culture. The challenges they might have faced had to have been tougher than what others deal with today, but backing down was never an option.

I remember many challenges faced as a black child growing up in Italy. Though happy moments outlive the bad moments, I was always reminded that I was black. I recall one day after playing outside with friends, most likely soccer, I decided to go to the store and buy a snack. As I stood there, a child about my age walked up to me staring and then rubbed her hand on my arm and looked down at her hand to see if my skin rubbed off. I walked out of the store that day realizing how different I was. Yet the only place where I felt like I belonged or wasn’t being judged was on the pitch, where all worries left my mind and my dreams along with friendships came alive.

The brothers credit street football as the inspiration for their fashion while admiring some of the guys in their neighborhood. Some who would construct and customize their own shoes or even rock fresh jerseys. But that fashion sense was only a part of their overall style. Hip hop sounds from the likes of Public Enemy to Whodini blasted through their boomboxes, affording them the opportunity to connect with people from other crews. Hip hop sounds connected their community as one and empowered the young people to represent where they were from. The brothers who have always identified with black culture saw the movement that took place in the United States. They admired it, studied it, mastered it, and eventually made it their own.

Edson and Tim capitalized on the opportunity to craft their brand after the culture they had been part of by creating their own soccer jersey repping their home team Ajax in collaboration with Umbro. The Patta brand wasn’t just born when the brothers were flying abroad to America or Japan to buy exclusive sneakers to resell in Amsterdam. It instead came to life when they decided to involve people in their community who they knew and admired and who understood their vision. A vision bridging the gap for people who want to relive their prime, while connecting with the present culture of streetwear.   

We now are in present day where Patta is a well-respected streetwear brand having collaborated with brands like Nike, ASICS, adidas, Converse, and Reebok. The future of connecting football, hip hop, and streetwear is in good hands if you leave it up to Patta. They’ve been able to connect the dots, while educating all of us on why their designs mean so much. Having a similar background as me, they have personally inspired me to use my experiences, challenges, culture, and dreams to share stories that empower communities and its people. So if you’ve never understood the correlation between the sport of soccer, hip hop and style—Patta is a great place to start.

THE DUTCH DO IT AGAIN WITH THEIR NIKE 2018 KIT

Adding to the recent release of new kits debuting in the World Cup, the Netherlands is a bright spot in the laundry list of hits and misses. Though the men will not be partaking in international play this summer, their newest kit by Nike certainly doesn’t reflect a poor performance.

The Dutch are sticking to the traditional and easily recognizable bright orange colorway with black accents and all white shorts. The sleeves and crest are by far the highlight, with a sleeve pattern that mimics speed, and a lioness crest emblazoned with KNVB or the Royal Netherlands Football Association. Simply put, the kit is fierce.

The away version is just as eye-catching, paying homage to the 1988 change colors with a baby blue base and royal blue geometric pattern to create movement. The colorway chosen is fresh and unique with socks for each kit matching the color of the jersey top worn.

Last but not least, both kits feature a crown stamped inside the back collar, an orange crown on the away kits, and an all-black for the home. Although it won’t be seen during matches, it’s a cheeky addition that adds to the flare of some already tasteful style choices for the Dutch.

The top is available for purchase tomorrow, April 26th, at Nike’s online store, and will debut in their friendly against Slovakia on May 31st.