Eniola Aluko is the sporting director of Angel City FC, a new expansion team in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Born in Lagos, Nigeria and raised in Birmingham, England, Aluko went on to play for England’s national team and a host of other teams around the world, including Chelsea and Juventus, along with several more in the Women’s Professional Soccer league in the U.S. (which preceded the NWSL) before retiring from playing.
Haven’t heard of her or of Angel City FC? Well, you will: Founded by a group of owners that includes Natalie Portman, Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian, Jessica Chastain, Eva Longoria, Billie Jean King, and James Corden (in addition to a number of standout soccer stars including Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, and Abby Wambach), the team sold 15,000 season tickets almost instantly upon offering them and is nothing less than a sensation in its first year.
We asked Aluko about how she got to where she is now, where she—and Angel City—are going… and what it is, exactly, that a “sporting director” does.
Vogue: When you first started playing soccer as a kid, did you ever imagine you’d be living where you are now and doing what you’re doing?
Eniola Aluko: I had very humble beginnings—I grew up on a council estate playing football with jumpers for goalposts and Coke cans on the field, but I very much just had this gift of being able to play. And when I look now at the arc of my life, I’m like, wow—everything I dreamed of as a kid in terms of playing became a reality for me by my mid-20s or so. In the ’90s, though, women’s football wasn’t visible at all—and now it is, and I’m trying to shape things in this completely different world.
I had this—mistaken, obviously—impression that in England, or in Europe, women’s soccer might have been valued at a much higher level than it has been in the U.S. over the last few decades.
I would say the opposite: I remember watching the 1990 World Cup and thinking, Oh my God, like Mia Hamm and all of these people, Brandi Chastain—they were, like, etched in my memory, but it felt so far away. My reality was very much “Girls shouldn’t play football. What are you doing playing football?” Because football in England is so entrenched in this sort of patriarchal society—men dominate sport, and I never felt that comfortable. It was almost like a rebellious act at times. It’s only now that the value of women’s football in Europe is really growing.