Never let go, a title well chosen for his biography (1) released in 2018. Because it took Marinette Pichon passion and resilience to become one of the greatest football players in history. After a youth bruised by an abusive father, she uses perseverance to rise to the highest level in a sports environment reluctant to bet on players.
In 1994, she was selected for the women's France team, then crossed the Atlantic at the dawn of the 2000s to become the first French player to obtain professional status in the Philadelphia team. Marinette Pichon breaks all records: she has 112 caps for the France team, was the top scorer in history (men and women combined) until Eugenie Le Sommer, who dethroned her in 2020, and, after her conversion, she was also the first French footballer to comment on men's matches. A new feat is now added to her record: at 47 years old, she is the only sportswoman in France to be the subject of a biopic in the cinema (2). In the run-up to the Women's World Cup (July 20 to August 20), the sports icon looks back on her career and the brakes that her heirs still suffer from on the field.
See alsoEugenie Le Sommer, the fabulous destiny of the striker of the Blues
In video, the tumultuous history of women's football
Football as an outlet
Mrs. Figaro. – Being the heroine of a biopic, is it another victory?
Marinette Pichon. – It flatters my ego, but it matters most to me for others. I was not immediately aware of the social and symbolic significance of my journey. If today I serve as a role model for some players or young girls who are struggling to find their place, I am honored. No dream is impossible to achieve if you believe in your potential, regardless of the background and obstacles. If I had listened to others, I would never have done anything. There have been times when I have had both knees on the ground, but I always got up.
When did you feel like you hit rock bottom?
From my birth to my departure from home. Children must grow up in a peaceful, caring, safe environment, but my sister and I left in life with a big handicap: our father was violent, alcoholic, criminal (he was sentenced to ten years in prison for sexual assault on the grandmother of the player, Editor's note). Working on self-confidence, in myself, has been an obstacle course, even if my mother, a true heroine, has always tried to compensate for our misfortunes. Without her and my sister, I wouldn't be here.
Has football been your outlet?
Yes, and my lifeline. It allowed me not to go wrong, to channel and vent my anger. It was the only place where I didn't feel marginalized because of my social background or my choices. On the contrary, I felt valued, I had the feeling of being in my place. This is the first time, apart from my mother, that people looked kindly at me and what I could accomplish. When Jean-Claude Rychel, my first coach, gave me a bib to join a boys' team, he proved to me that nothing was impossible. By treating me as equals, without favoritism, he trivialized the fact and made my integration easy at a time when it was not obvious. This is the best show of respect I have ever received.
A long-term struggle
Has your homosexuality been a source of discrimination in your career?
No, but I lacked role models to lean on, and I had a hard time accepting myself. I had come out, but, aware of the taboos, I did not allow myself to live fully. When my wife, Ingrid, came into my life, she taught me how to free myself. Today, I am and only realize what I want.
Has sexismbeen a burden in your journey?
Being in a team of France was a privilege that sometimes made me forget some inconveniences, comments on our physique, for example. But the lack of consideration for us has always astounded me. I ended my career to enjoy life with my wife and our eldest son, born from his first union, but also because the fact that the status of professional player was not granted to us in France revolted me. I am outraged to see that the Federation has not capitalized on the 2019 World Cup: twelve years after my retirement, nothing has changed.
We lack leaders who want to be part of the change. Olympique Lyonnais president Jean-Michel Aulas was the first to seek men's funds to inject into women's teams, but he is an exception. Many are afraid of not making the bet profitable and are waiting for Olympic medals or a World Cup to justify an investment. But it is the snake that bites its tail: the lack of infrastructure to train is not a condition conducive to exploits. Not to mention the obligation to have a job in parallel, because without professional status, no salary!
It's double punishment...
Absolutely, because who says double day, says amplitude schedule, fatigue ... This is one of the great injustices between the players! Two or three clubs have the means to pay female footballers, a few hours are covered by the federation thanks to the Work Integration Contract, but the majority of French players only receive bonuses that are not enough. The rates had to increase, but my first bonus in France team was 210 francs (about 32 euros, editor's note) per trip.
After the match
What about the question of children for high-level athletes?
It is a difficult choice, which is often postponed. We fear that the body will not recover, to lose the confidence of the selectors ... Amel Majri was the first French international player to become a mother during her career, and I admire her courage because there is a real risk. I made this choice after I retired, but it was not easy. I wanted to carry our second son, but without success: my body was out of whack by the practice of intensive sport.
Was your conversion difficult?
Not at all. As I was in the media, I was quickly solicited. I have also always anticipated so that I can choose my path and not suffer it. I did a master's degree in professional club management, and today I am the general manager of a club in Montreal and a consultant for the Quebec television channel for which I will be commentating on the World Cup.
What is at stake in this next World Cup?
I have always fought for the professionalization of French players. The more media coverage and public interest grows, the more sponsors will flock and the more the federation will find us worthy of interest.
(1) Never let go of anything, by Marinette Pichon, Éditions First, 2018.
(2) Marinette, by Virginie Verrier. Released on June 7.