[Note: interview originally conducted in 2012]
Franziska Klingelfuss may not be a household name, even in her native Switzerland, but the experienced goalkeeper has both benefitted from, and contributed to, the women’s game in Switzerland during a distinguished 14-year playing career.
The fact that Franziska played in the male youth team of second-tier side FC Aarau – a club who count former Chelsea Champions League-winning boss Roberto Di Matteo, ex-Middlesbrough defender Emanuel Pogatetz and Oceania Footballer of the Century Wynton Rufer among their former players – until her teenage years could be counted as both an advantage and disadvantage to her career. On the one hand, often being the only girl on the pitch in a testosterone-fuelled sport highlighted the difference between Franziska and her team-mates and could have made it hard to fit in – but the confidence gained from proving herself as good as, and better than, many of her male counterparts was surely invaluable.
Unsurprisingly, recognition from further afield followed: in 1996, she was selected for the under-16 Aargau regional team, representing the canton’s population of 600,000; two years later, Franziska progressed to the Swiss under-18 women’s national team – a huge achievement given she was plying her trade far down the Swiss league ladder at the time.
Although her practical inability to move to a top-flight women’s club – deemed necessary in order to progress further in the Swiss FA youth setup – unfortunately ended her national team career in 1998, Franziska went on to enjoy a successful career that began at Aarau and also took in two spells at FC Baden as well as stints at FC Schlieren, FC Domat-Ems and CB Laax.
A persistent and painful back injury has limited her playing time in recent years – the goalkeeper has been without a club since 2010, but, having looked into back treatment, Franziska refuses to throw in the towel: she is yet to officially retire, and with luck, will soon be back on the field.
Klingelfuss has taken advantage of that spell on the sidelines to further a promising coaching career that began in 2001 as the goalkeeper coach for SC Schöftland’s 8-16 year olds. Franziska has since passed on her expertise to the new generation of Swiss footballers in a number of roles, including training youngsters at the annual FC Aarau football camp, and helping local girls by coaching Aargau’s under-14 regional team.
2004 was the exception to this rule as Franziska took up a role as match reporter and commentator for third division men’s team FC Gränichen, but she has since returned to coaching by helping to nurture FC Aarau’s 5-7 year old “Brügglikids”.
Modest and thoughtful in equal measure, Franziska offers a fascinating insight into the life of a female footballer in Switzerland; although the women’s game has improved in recent years, it still has some way to go.
NAME: Franziska Klingelfuss
CLUBS: 1996-98 – FC Aarau; 1998-01 – FC Baden; 2001-04 – FC Aarau; 2004-05 – FC Baden; 2005-07 – FC Schlieren; 2007-09 – FC Domat-Ems; 2009-10 – CB Laax.
What was the best moment of your career, either playing for a club or the Swiss under-18 team?
To play in the Swiss under-18 team was great – I was 16 and playing in the lowest women’s league in Switzerland at the time. Normally only the players from the Nationalliga A [Swiss top flight] and maybe sometimes from the Nationalliga B [second division] get a call-up, so I was very proud, although it was just for one year.
Then the coach from the Swiss under-18 team told me that I needed to move to a club in a better league to stay in the under-18 team. It was hard for me, but at this time I couldn’t change teams because of school – if I had moved to a club in a higher division, I would have had to travel for more than an hour to get to training, and that was too much. So I stayed in the lowest league for the moment.
But it was also great to play in the clubs I’ve been. For example, with Schlieren [2005-07], we played in the 1.Liga [Swiss third division]. During the championship we won all of our 16 games; we scored 75 goals and only conceded 8 goals. That was great for me as a goalkeeper! We were promoted to the next league, Nationalliga B. In this great season we also reached the semi-final of the Swiss Cup. That was extraordinary for a team from the 1.Liga.
Which team did you enjoy playing for most, and do you have any funny stories/anecdotes from your time in football?
First, to play with the boys was cool. Once I had to play with the Ea-Juniors; this was the better team that I played for and the trainer was a little bit strong. So I was very nervous – both when I went to the meeting and in the first minute of the game. But after it was great: we won the game 3-0 and the trainer was very happy and friendly to me.
Then playing for Baden was excellent, because there I had the best goalkeeper coach ever in my career. We worked very hard but we understood each other; he was there for me if I had some questions or a private problem. We worked seriously together but we could also laugh together. We stay in contact, even now.
Also, playing for Schlieren was awesome. I said earlier that in my first year there we won ever game in the championship. And in the second year at the end of the season we finished in third place even though we were in a higher league.
As an anecdote, I can say that I hated football when I was young! My father always went to watch the games at FC Aarau with my brother. And I would never ever go with them. Then in school there was a boy I knew whose father was a coach at FC Aarau. So once I went with him and from this moment I played football.
And I’m proud that I never received a single yellow or red card in the 19 years I played!
At what age did you first start playing football and for which team?
I started to play football at the age of 9. And I played for FC Aarau with the boys. This was for the Eb-Juniors team.
What was it like being the only girl in a boys’ team at youth level? Were the boys jealous or did they respect you for being as good as them?
For me, the boys and the trainer, it was normal that I played with the boys. They saw that I could play football [just as well as them] – sorry, I don’t want to be arrogant, but it’s true!
But the other teams that we played against always laughed when they saw that my team played with a girl in goal. They always said something like: “we will score 10 goals against you, because you have a girl in goal”. Sometimes it was hard for me, because I just wanted to play football. Luckily we won most of the games and after the game the players from the other teams said nothing at all! Most of the time the other trainers come to me to say that I had played well. That was great.
How has women’s football in Switzerland developed in recent years? How big is support for it in Switzerland – how many people watch each match?
I think at the moment it’s better than ever for the women’s football in Switzerland. In my time we never, ever received money for playing – on the contrary, we had to pay an annual subscription so that we could play for the club!
Now it’s better. I don’t know how much [money] they get, but at some clubs – for example FC Zurich and Grasshopper Club – the players receive some money. Zurich have a couple of ex-national team players in Inka Grings and Sonja Fuss; I think they get a lot of money, because they are professional players. I think that they are the only professionals in Switzerland, so it’s great that they are playing in the Swiss league – they can push football in our country, and because of them Zurich always has a lot of people who watch their games: last season there were sometimes more than 500 people there, and that’s a lot in Swiss women’s football!
In my time it was impossible to be a professional footballer. We always had to go to school or to work [as well as playing]. If you had to go to the national team you had to take holidays off work so that you could go. Today it’s better, most of the players work 60% to 80% of the time. And most of the time they get time off from their employer if they had to go, for example, to the Swiss national team.
Also, a few years ago an academy was created in Huttwil for the biggest female talents in Switzerland. They can train there twice a day, going to school at special times, and they live in Huttwil with a host family. These players often stay at the academy for two years, playing for a local club at the weekend.
How do you think the women’s game in Switzerland compares to other countries in Europe and worldwide? Is there a reason why the Swiss women’s team have never qualified for the World Cup?
In Switzerland women’s football is not professional – there is less money. And it’s too hard for the players to work 80% of the time or go to school for the whole day and juggle that with playing football 5 or 6 times in one week.
For many years, the same group of players were being selected for the national team – the coach liked them even they were not the best players from Switzerland. Now we have a new coach in the Swiss national team and she has changed some players. I think it’s better now, but it will take some time for them to play how the coach would like.
With our youth national teams we’re always better [than at senior level]; at the moment our under-20 national team is at the World Cup in Tokyo.
Who is the best player you have played with and against, and the best team you have faced?
The best player I have played with was Sheila Loosli. She was a Swiss international for many years. She was 34 years old when I played with her. She has two daughters and was a member of the police. We trained 3 or 4 times each week and she was always there. It was very impressive.
The best team I have faced? Let me think… I’d say a representative team from the USA. With Baden I played in a tournament in Italy and in the final we had to play against an American team. We had no chance and we lost the game 4-0. It was so impressive to watch how they played. They were all very strong and focused.
Have you had other jobs in football to earn money, seeing as the clubs you played for didn’t pay you?
Yes, I have done the following things:
- August 2001-June 2003: Boys’ goalkeeper coach for FC Schöftland, 8-16 year olds
- July 2001-July 2006: Coach at annual football camp for FC Aarau
- August 2003-June2005: Boys’ goalkeeper coach for FC Rudolfstetten, 8-12 year olds
- August 2004-August 2006: Match reporter and commentator for FC Gränichen (Men’s 3rd division)
- August 2006-June 2007: Goalkeeper coach for Aargau regional under-14 girls team
- August 2012-present: Coach for FC Aarau, 5-7 year olds
Thanks to Franziska for her time.