Simona Petkova is a Bulgarian international football player who has played in different countries such as England, Italy, and Switzerland, where she represented FC Lugano last season. The 27-year-old winger tells us about the difficulties she has faced throughout her career until becoming at a professional level and analyzes the current panorama of women’s football in a conversation conducted by Nuno Milheiro.
Growing up in Gabrovo, Simona only started playing football officially when she was 16. While participating in a local tournament, she unexpectedly received an invitation to join the national team of Bulgaria and decided she wanted to become a professional football player. “After the first game, the national team coach came to me and spoke with my coach and my mother. He asked me “do you want to join the under-17 and 19 national teams?”. I said yes and joined them one week after the tournament.“Wow, this is crazy, I want to play football and earn money with it. One day I will”. I told that to my mother and myself!”, she said.
Her first adventure abroad was in England, in the 2016-2017 season, at Leeds United. In that period, the women’s team was competing in the fourth division, but she ended up attracting the attention of Watford.
I used the first six months to learn the language and try to find a job because only with football you cannot survive in England. I made a difference in my team and Watford called me for a trial. Watford was a semi-professional club, so I could not live only with a salary from football as well. If you play in the first league [the FA Women’s Premier League], yes, you can solve your life”.
Despite having represented clubs such as Leeds United, Watford, Pink Bari, and Empoli, she only had her first professional contract a year ago, when he signed for FC Lugano. “Ten years before I was dreaming about this contract. I did not care about the money or the numbers. I did care about the paper just for my satisfaction”.
Simona highlighted the importance of mental health in top-level athletes and believes that it should be properly worked on from an early age by football coaches. “Mental health is much more important than the physical part. You can be very strong, technically amazing, but if you do not have mental health, you lose everything. Sport is not just one street, but a ball with a lot of sides. You need to combine all the details to make sure the kids can be happy, calm to play, and not be affected by what people are talking about. Especially in woman’s football since the girls are more sensitive and take everything more deeply.”
The possibility of giving up her career crossed her mind after moving from England to Italy but she managed to overcome the adversities with unwavering motivation. “For that reason, I wrote my book [“Football Journey”]. Just to make sure I show people Simona Petkova before being the national team’s number 7 and playing against Juventus, Young Boys, Liverpool, or Arsenal. I am not special. I just have worked hard to achieve those things. If you quit, you stop dreaming”.
Simona stressed the importance of reaching a public understanding of women’s football particularities and seems optimistic about the sport’s growth in the international panorama.
I think people are confused by that. Yes, we play football the same as men, but our game is different. We have more emotion. There is more game time, fewer simulations, different dynamics. We are different. Recently, I read that people are enjoying more woman’s football now. Men’s teams are more about money and business than to love the game”.
The Bulgarian winger took the opportunity to leave an encouraging message for women who aspire to become professional players. “You cannot stop believing in yourself. Never doubt your ability. Everything is learnable. If you are not physically strong, you can go to the gym and improve. If you are not tactically good and the coach says you are not prepared, you can read books. Women’s football is growing. This is the time for people who have the dream to become a football player to go ahead”, she concluded.