We spoke with Selena Babb about her football career and her view on equal rights - something she fights for using her voice as professional footballer. Selena is a goalkeeper at AC Milan, one of the top clubs of the Italian league. Since mid-April 2022 she works together with Valenze to develop her personal brand and this interview was live broadcasted on her Instagram as well.
Curious about her experience? Watch the video or read it in the article below.
How did you become a football player and how did you end up at AC Milan?
That is quite some story. I started when I was 8 years old. First I tried different sports, like swimming, horseback riding, tennis and kickboxing. But they were just not really for me. And then I started to play football and that was straight up passion and love. If you see pictures of me when I was around 5 years old, I was already playing with a ball. So football was the logical choice. And from then on it went really quick.
When I was 8 years old, I started playing football in Rotterdam. That is where it all started. At 12 I changed clubs and I started playing with the boys. A year later, I already made the move to the first women’s team, who played third division at that time. In that same season, a club that played in the first division saw me play and wanted me to come and play for their team. And this is where the fire started. Then I went to Utrecht, where I played for 6 years. At 21 I returned to Rotterdam. I played for a new team and that season was rough. The results were not good, it was just the beginning of a team.
“And now I am back in Milan. Back home, that is what I always say. Milan is my second home, I am really happy here.”
And then I got the opportunity to go to Romania and play in the Champions League. And I haven't come home since. After this first international transfer I have also played in Cyprus, Spain and now Italy. In Italy I first played for AC Milan. After one year I went to Sampdoria on loan, and now I am back in Milan. Back home, that is what I always say. Milan is my second home, I am really happy here.
Did you always know you wanted to be a goalkeeper? Or did you start as a field player?
I started as a field player, as a number 10. I was really small and quite quick, so I was just running like a chicken without a head. Later I played on the left wing. I really liked that position too, but I didn't really get the joy of scoring so much. If I scored but we lost, I was still thinking ‘not so good’.
For Christmas I was always asking for gloves. When I was playing out on the streets, I was always the goalkeeper. So my mom suggested that I could try and be a goalkeeper. One day our goalkeeper was injured and when the coach asked who wanted to play in the goal that game - I raised my hand. I was so happy when I came off the field and my mom said that I was way happier than normal. I said ‘yes because I was the goalkeeper and did you see how many saves I had?’
After that we told the coach, my mom did while holding my hand, that I always wanted to be the goalkeeper. And from that moment I never left the goal again.
During your career, have you ever encountered obstacles related to equal rights?
I think as women we struggle with inequality on a daily basis. But in football there is always inequality, because the attention is always drawn to the men. Lucky for me, I am playing for a club that tries to minimize this as much as possible. They offer us good conditions and I am happy to be here. Especially when I compare it to clubs I have played for in the past.
Do you see a change between how it was when you were younger and how it is now?
100%! For example, one time we could not play at a certain pitch because it needed time to rest before the U19 boys team would play on it. This is back in the days. They gave us the excuse that we couldn’t play in the stadium because the field needed to be spared for the U19 boys, who played the next day. Which was ridiculous of course.
Right now, we have our own playing grounds. If we play home, we always play on natural grass. It is not always like that, but for me natural grass shows professionalism. Good grass, a good field, a good pitch. And back in the day, that was nowhere near to be seen. I remember there were days when you had to play on a muddy field, somewhere all the way in the back. Now it is not like that anymore.
It was interesting what you said about when you went back to Rotterdam and played for the new team. Seeing the difference between how they started and how it is now - what differences do you see, that they should have applied back then?
I have to be honest and say that I am not really keeping track of it. I can see that they play way more in their actual stadium, the Excelsior stadium. This is really good, because when I was there, we played there maybe only three or four times. That is for sure a big step ahead!
We also started a campaign on your social media about equal rights, something that is very important to you. Can you tell us more about that?
I started this to create more awareness. You see so many differences and we need to fight these differences on a daily basis. People tell me that I am living the dream, and I am.
But we are not like men. We are not getting paid like men. And this is what we really need to realize. We are fighting the same battles and we are doing the same sport. Some people say “it's the same sport but you are just women, you should do better” - people just don’t know how hard we work every day. People are sometimes not aware of the battles that we have to fight.
Do you think the expectations are different?
Yes. For example my uncle who is around 60 years old, said ‘but the game is not as fast as the men’s’. So I asked him if he can see the differences and he answered ‘yes you can see that the differences are there, so maybe you should get paid less’. In this example he is just joking around and he did not mean it like that, but I told him that this is exactly what I am fighting for. Because people compare our sports with the men’s game. That we are not as fast, but if you look you can see that our game is technical and that we are training and working hard, so why are we less than the men? This is my question right now.
"It is the same sport, the principles are the same. We all run behind the same ball, we have the same goal: to score in the other goal and not to be scored on. There is no men’s football, there is no women’s football, it is football".
And that is what you try to show as well right? With your stories about female football? To raise awareness and show how the women’s game is.
Yes and one of the greatest things is what The Netherlands does right now. Even in the top level of amateur you are allowed to have a mixed team. Women can enter that league with a men’s team. Maybe we would not win the duels, but at least they are given the opportunity to try.
It is a good example of equality. Do you have more good examples of the equal game?
I think all the national teams are doing really well. You see that more and more national teams try to ensure equal pay. They are fighting for the same country and they wear the same badge, so equal pay wouldn’t be more than logical. This is 100% one of the good developments we see right now.
And what about a player? Do you have someone you are looking up to who is fighting for equal rights?
Megan Rapinoe. She started fighting at the beginning of her career. If anyone is fighting for us women, it is her.
It is great to see that in women’s football the players use their influence. Besides the stories we have already talked about, how do you want to reach your goal of raising more awareness?
Through my social media. Social media is the biggest platform that you can use to create awareness. You reach the younger generation, my generation and even the older generation. They are all active on social media so I think this is the best way to show your voice.
Do you think other players should work more on their personal brand?
Definitely. When you have a big reach and when you can use your channels to show your voice, you should do it. You are not only fighting for yourself, but also for the next generation. Maybe your daughter is going to play some day in the future and they will get that equal pay. That will be something you have fought for.
In the last five years, big steps have already been made. But even bigger steps can be made, as long as we are just there to do it.
What else do you think we need to do in order to make those steps?
I think it is ideal for everyone to stop comparing. That is what I said throughout the campaign. Football is football. It doesn't change the sport if it is played by men or women. We should respect the sport as it is and respect the person playing the sport. And this is where it starts for me.
How do you want to use your position, as an AC Milan player, besides creating awareness in order to bring equal rights and equal treatment to the women’s game?
I don’t think necessarily as an AC Milan player but as a person in general. Speaking about it helps a lot, on and offline. Also the Off-White campaign just started with ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’. And that is where you see equality comes out. You see players of the men’s team wearing ‘I support equality’. This is a big thing and the fact that we get support from the men is already an important step for me. The same happened when the men of the English national team were supporting the English women’s team.
It should be a natural thing right. We also see stories from you watching the men’s game. Do they come to your games as well?
I am not looking into the stands when I am focused on the game. But we are supporting the men and I know for sure that they are following us as well.
We also received a question from one of the followers on your Instagram account. This person wants to know what your highest goal is in your career.
It would be really great to win the league with AC Milan. The men showed us how to do it last year, so I say we do it the upcoming year.
And to reach the highest of my potential. I don’t think that I am at my highest potential yet so I am really excited to find out where that is.
Another question was: Who do you think is the best goalkeeper in the world?
I have one all time favorite, even though he played for the rivalry team (because I am from Rotterdam). My idol is Edwin van de Sar, a Dutch goalkeeper. Because of the work I did before, I had the chance to meet him three or four times and I was just star-struck. I was working in hospitality, in the stadium of Feyenoord, and that is where I saw him.
Were you acting like the shy girl from back in the day?
I was still shy. I am actually really shy. Nobody believes this, all my teammates that hear this are like ‘that’s not true’, but I was really a shy kid. But I just made sure he (Edwin van de Sar) had everything and that I really payed attention to him. He is the all-time best.
This was a very interesting conversation, so thank you for answering all the questions. To finish, do you have any tips for your young audience on how they can help to raise awareness on equal rights?
First of all, keep enjoying this beautiful game. Have fun, that is what is most important. But as well: work hard and fight for what you believe in. Believe in yourself and fight for everything that you deserve.