Beyond Barcelona lies a greater goal
By Colin Thompson, in Barcelona
As she emerges from the dressing room tunnel at the Municipal Les Planes St Joan Despi in Barcelona, Kenni Thompson is greeted by a group of excited youngsters, anxious to get their picture taken with the Bermudian female football star.
Even though she is physically drained following a hard fought 2-0 victory against host team Futbol Club Levante Las Planas — in which she scored her team’s second goal from the penalty spot — not once does the Saint Gabriel winger hesitate to make herself available. Sweat pours down her face and she grins towards the camera, flanked on either side by her young admirers.
Kenni, 14, is well known in these parts for her exploits on the football pitch.
She moved to Catalonia in 2012 after taking up an offer to play for FC Barcelona’s girls’ team.
During her stint at the La Liga powerhouse, Kenni persevered but found the demands of playing for such an illustrious club very trying.
“When I went to Barcelona I pretty much lost all of my confidence,” she admitted.
Her mom, Kim, also remembers those early days at Barcelona.
“It was hard for Kenni at first for quite a long time because she was in awe of the girls she was playing with. They are the top girls in Catalonia and probably in Spain and even now I’m sure they probably make up a good part of the national team. She was in awe of them and became timid so I know that was another difficulty for her and my heart was broken at that time for her.”
Despite her challenges, Kenni still has fond memories reflecting upon her playing stint with Barcelona.
“It was really cool playing for Barcelona because they are better than all of the other teams so we were winning like 5-0 or more,” she said.
Being a part of Barcelona often brought the talented female football player in proximity of club stars like Lionel Messi at the training ground.
“Most times when I went to training the first team was finishing so you get to see the big players like Messi and Iniesta there,” she said. “One time I went to watch Barcelona’s first team train and Neymar came over and took a picture with me and gave me an autograph and everything.
“Watching all of the Barcelona players train is completely different from how they play. They’re a lot faster and better in training because they are playing against their own team and they’re a good team altogether.”
Kenni eventually regained her confidence playing and training at the under-14 boys level at the World Sport Academy UE Cornella Programme not far from FC Barcelona.
“It’s a higher level playing with Cornella and more physical with the boys,” she said. “When I come here to play with Cornella I play the best I can and although I am a girl I can play better than most of the boys here.”
Kenni’s mom added: “When I saw her first start with Cornella I was a little worried. But she came out first match slide tackling, grazing her legs all up and was confident and comfortable playing her game and the parents here at Cornella just loved her. They were very supportive.”
Kenni believes that women’s football isn’t taken as seriously as their male counterparts, a stigma that doesn’t sit well with the daughter of former national football and Bermuda Football Association youth director coach Kenny Thompson.
“I don’t think people take women’s football seriously, which is unfair,” she said. “Just because we are girls doesn’t mean we have to be worse than boys. We can be just as good, or even better.”
Kenni’s football continues to flourish these days playing in the Cadete — Juvenile Femenino Preferente Division with her Saint Gabriel colleagues. She has scored nine goals so far this season, the most she has achieved playing in Barcelona.
“Kenni is enjoying her football and that’s what makes me happy,” her proud football mom said. “She’s enjoying what she loves to do.”
Kenni’s game has improved so much that late last year she was invited to participate in regional trials for selection to Spain’s national under-16 girls’ team.
“I was actually kind of surprised when I found out,” she said. “I went to training and they said ‘Kenni you have a spot’ and apparently everyone knew about it and I didn’t. I was like ‘what!’
“I was kind of nervous when I first went because those are the best girl footballers in my age group and some of them are better than most of the boys that I play with so I was thinking, ‘How am I going to make out?’”
Even though she failed to make the cut, Kenni had much to be proud of having been shortlisted among an elite group of players.
“That was a big honour to be selected in the pool of 30 players for the Catalan region,” her father said. “And the Catalans are very competitive.”
Kenni’s ultimate goal is to play top level women’s football in another country.
“I hope to go maybe somewhere like the US or the UK to become more professional,” she added. “Maybe I can become better to show that girls can be just as good as the guys.”