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24. Surviving Switzerland | Soccer, She Wrote

24. Surviving Switzerland | Soccer, She Wrote

Mariah Lee
Mariah Lee at FF Lugano

Last Wednesday was our day off so my roommates and I planned to drive out to one of my teammates’ home on the coast. I rose early, checked my phone, and when I went to open my blinds, was greeted by dark, ominous clouds. Ten minutes into our hour-long drive, Hannah, my “Kiwi” (ie. New Zealander) teammate remarked,

Great, it’s raining.

Eh, this is a drizzle. I chirped back. Which Jenna, my fellow Seattlite seconded. 

Still, annoying on our beach day, Hannah replied. 

It’s funny because when I was in California anytime there was an inch of rain all plans were canceled. No one went outside. If I had that attitude growing up, I would have never done anything. 

Hannah turned up the wipers as pea-sized drops began to smack into the windshield. 

Honestly, no one used umbrellas. I didn’t own a rain jacket until high school when The North Face rain jackets were all the rave. We were so used to it. It wasn’t until living in the Bay that I was like, “Oh! This is what having the sun feels like!” I didn’t know what I was missing. 

. . .

My first Aussie rain made me reflect on all the places I’ve lived as a professional footballer: Seattle, Switzerland, Scotland, Denmark, Spain, and now, Australia. When I was in Scotland, I think it rained during training for an entire month straight. In Denmark, we practiced at 7:00 am so for parts of the winter we’d train in the dark— before the sun was up to heat the air. It was frigid. Spain was the first place where I could still rock shorts in October. I was in heaven. Considering October is in the middle of spring down here, I would have to say Australia takes the cake in terms of weather because I can skip winter entirely with the timing of our soccer season. 

Australia ranks first in living accommodations as well. Though, I don’t think that takes much. I’ve been thrown into some dire situations. 

Exhibit: Switzerland.

Bogno Switzerland
View of Bogno, Switzerland

Switzerland was my first professional stint. I got the gig without an agent, which meant I had no idea what to expect and no oversight from a person who could provide reasonable expectations. I rocked up to preseason with ten other fresh-out-of-college Americans to Someo, Switzerland, a minuscule village in the Alps for our preseason trip. We stayed in what seemed like an ex-playboy “mansion”, complete with photographs of women in sparse clothing in recognizable areas of the house. (Mansion is in quotes because the home had a lot of rooms but, oddly enough, no kitchen.) We ate every meal at a restaurant down the road, walked to the field for training and practice games, ice-bathed in the river, and went on scenic hikes on our off days. It was beautiful. It was quaint. It was the honeymoon. 

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Mariah Lee at FC Lugano training camp
Mariah on the first of training camp in Someo, Switzerland. July, 2019

The owner of my Swiss club, FF Lugano was an Italian man named Manu. Lugano is a city that sits on the border of Switzerland and Italy. Most of the city’s workers are Italians who commute daily to earn greater salaries in Switzerland and while enjoying lower living expenses in Italy. Manu promised us that we’d live in Italy so our monthly “salary” of $400 USD could go further. Upon completion of our preseason trip, he moved us to Bogno, Switzerland, a 1.6 square mile Alpine village on the outskirts of Lugano. Our only form of transportation was a chartered bus that took us to and from training and the public bus. The public bus took nearly an hour and a half to get to the city center and cost $30 round trip. Because we were broke, we’d make it to town about once a week. The majority of our time was, thus, spent in Bogno.

Bogno contained about forty homes, one ranch, and one restaurant. Fourteen of us lived in a converted Bed-and-Breakfast. Two girls were allocated to each room with a shared bathroom. There were a handful of washing machines, but no dryers (which I have come to find out is very common outside of the States). Since we were responsible for washing our two sets of training gear it was a nightmare getting everything washed and dried in time for training. We shared an industrial kitchen. There was barely enough fridge space for all of us, not nearly enough freezer space, and on more than one occasion the electricity short-circuited and all of our food spoiled. On top of it all, the kitchen was so old that we had to light the burners by hand. What did we do in our free time, you ask? Lots and lots of card games. 

After about a month of petitioning the owner, Manu agreed to our demands: a dwelling in Italy closer to the city center. His solution was two apartments in Campione d’Italia. Campione is a tiny Italian city, surrounded by Switzerland that was home to Europe’s largest casino. The year prior to our arrival, the casino went under, stripping the town of its largest source of revenue. Shops closed up. Apartments emptied. It was a ghost town. (A ghost town without a grocery store to boot, hence, defeating the whole purpose behind the move to Italy). Anyway, fourteen of us shared two two-bedroom apartments. My room was shared by four women. We were all in single beds, so I could literally reach out and touch two of my roommates while lying in bed. In the other apartment, the girls converted the living room into a bedroom (by hanging up a sheet) so the girl-to-room ratio was slightly lower. In most states, this many women living together is considered a brothel; therefore, illegal. We didn’t know what the laws were in Italy. 

Mariah lee with her teammates at FC Lugano
Mariah and the Americans of FF Lugano

We didn’t last a month in Campione before all of us Americans had to return home. The police caught wind of the owner’s dodgy business practices, investigated the club, and essentially deported us. Though, not for the living accommodations, but because we didn’t have work permits. 

Switzerland was my worst playing experience, but it wasn’t by far. Despite what you may picture in your head, women’s football isn’t glamorous. While my setup here in Adelaide is an immeasurable upgrade, I went through the ringer and back before getting here. Those stories, though, are for another rainy day.

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