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Former AC Milan Women’s coach Carolina Morace on coming out: ‘I am a woman who loves a woman’

‘I did it for my friends in their forties and fifties who still don’t have the courage to talk about themselves.’

Juventus Women v AC Milan - Women Serie A Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

Former AC Milan Women’s coach, Carolina Morace, recently gave an interview to the Corriere della Sera where she officially announced her coming out.

Morace is one of the few, high profile Italian figures to come out. It is not easy for one to come out of the closet, especially in Italy, where prejudice abounds.

Below is a translation of her interview with the Corriere where she speaks of the courage not only to be herself ― but the love of her wife, Nicola Williams, as well.

It all started with a gaffe, in Tokyo, at a FIFA event. On the one hand, there is Carolina Morace, one of the greatest women’s players of all time. On the other, there is a beautiful woman named Nicola [Williams].

“But I read Nicola, and I did not know. I called her by her middle name, Jane, as it seemed more ‘womanly’, and she, looking at me with intensity, said to me: ‘Why are you calling me Jane?’ Since then, Carolina Morace and the Australian Nicola Jane Williams have never separated. They have been married twice, and in the early days of their relationship they took dozens of plane rides to spend time together, and they patiently built up a love that only now the fifty-six-year-old former footballer and coach - who is listed among the “Football Legends” by the Golden Foot Awards - decided to talk about this.

She chose the Corriere della Sera, in anticipation of the tell-all book (written with the journalist Alessia Tarquinio) Outside The Box, which will be out on October 13th.

Love, life, football. An intense story from the heart. So why right now?

“I think there are moments in life when certain things become natural. Maybe you weren’t ready before. Then, one day, the words are born with a new spontaneity.”

This time, the coming out is coming from one of the most important symbols of women’s football. And it will be important for all women who are on the ball (players).

“Of course I did it for them, for the younger players, but I also did it for many of my friends in their forties or fifties who still don’t have the courage to talk about themselves.”

Will it also be a catalyst for the men (to come out too)?

The world of football is full of bigotry and homophobia. I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t want to come out. For many men, not doing so is a form of protection [way of protecting themselves]. I think it is only right to come out when you are ready when you are sure you can remove the mask and never put it back on.”

How important was Nicola in this decision?

“Very very much. She received a different education: in Australia, as in many other countries around the world, the fact that two people of the same sex love each other does not really bother anyone. She herself, in the early days of our history, when she first came to Italy, was amazed at how much gravity we gave these choices [or how much we deliberated over it]. And only with her did I manage to become real, without masks [and take off my mask]. Now, I don’t hide anymore.”

We were left with the gaffe made in Tokyo. You two went and got married twice.

“I made the proposal to her on my forty-eighth birthday. I bought the rings, I went over the phrase “do you want to marry me?” for several hours. I am a traditional woman, yes, even in this case I have remained the same. And to think that before this point in my life I had never thought about marriage. We got married for the first time in Bristol [England], on the SS Great Britain and then in Australia.”

What did your dad say?

“I told him: ‘Dad, I’m getting married.’ And he said: “Good!” [Then I told him] “Yes, but not with a man”. [And then he said] “All right! Just be happy.”

Has he always encouraged you on the football field?

“If he had thought - as many parents did then and still do so today - that women’s football is a sport for wannabe men and did not see a different perspective on it, then I wouldn’t have a trophy in the Hall of Fame of Italian football. I never said, ‘When I grow up I want to play football’, I just played it. And to that, I say: don’t ask for permission to do something that makes you feel good. Do it. Indulge in your talents. It will be hard, but you will feel alive, and it will make you feel real and quite special.”

Perhaps this is the point: many parents of potential footballers do not see “a future” in women’s football, at least in Italy. And they end up discouraging their players (girls). Is this the case?

“It is indeed the case. The point is purely cultural: here women’s football is suffocated by stereotypes that make it unappealing, and yes, I am also talking about sponsorships [those who sponsor the game]. So, you have to start at school, you have to make the girls understand that they can even have a career in football and of course, you have to be active in order for this to happen. And then it takes quality [investment]: women’s football deserves intelligent, cultured, and well-prepared people. Not the outcasts of the men’s game who don’t want them [i.e. not wanted by the men, or who don’t want to coach the women].”

Investments, visions, talent.

“Just look at what happens in the women’s leagues that matter. The German model [for women’s football in Germany] guarantees teams that do not have the strength of a men’s behind them €700,000 [for each team]; and to the professional teams, €300,000. Let’s think like this and then the women’s game will become a great spectacle. We must aspire to have a good game, even in women’s football.”

You have a reputation as an “iron sergeant” (hard taskmaster). Is that still true?

“But no, let’s say that I have always been a very firm woman, grounded in my beliefs. When I became the first woman to coach a professional men’s team, Luciano Gaucci’s Viterbese, everyone began to watch me and at the same time, everyone expected me to do bizarre things. In addition to the fact that they felt compelled, or entitled, to give me unsolicited advice. But I must say they treated me just like a male colleague back then.”

They asked her if she went into the locker room.

“I would have liked to answer: ‘No, I’m sending small pieces of paper’ or ‘a carrier pigeon’ [to Nicola].”

Precision, irony, courage. Perhaps Morace, rather than being “outside the box” has a plan of their own, which they pursue strongly.

“I like to support those who are intelligent and capable and do so without hypocrisy. I’m certainly not a woman who supports another woman just because they are in a same-sex relationship. I don’t support a woman just because she’s a woman.”

You have coached the Italian, Canadian, and Trinidad women’s national teams, as well as Milan, to name a few.

“I have some experience and I’ve always tried to act according to my (mental) schemes (patterns).”

However, we have recently started talking about women’s football.

“It existed before, but it wasn’t there [wasn’t as visible]. Hundreds of women played but were surrounded by prejudices, considered as missing males [women who want to be men]. The only way to motivate girls, and to give them the ambition to become champions is to give the correct dignity to women’s football and stop considering it a poor version [of the men’s game]. If the girls are motivated, the number of players will increase and it will perhaps become a big sport.”

Carolina, now you and Nicola want a child.

“Yes, we want a child. She already has a daughter and is a very good mother, and I am moved by seeing the way she talks so intimately with her child; the time she devotes to her, and how she is following her growth. It will not be easy for us, especially at this time when traveling around the world is complicated due to the pandemic. I already know that we will have to be patient, both for this and for all the difficulties we will encounter [in the future].”

But with you, she [Nicola] feels she can do it.

“Nicola also freed me from this fear. In fact, when I was thirty-nine - and as I said in the book - I tried to become a mother. I was a single and determined woman but the children did not come [she had pregnancy complications] and so I stopped getting very angry. I just had to wait. And with my wife today, I feel that it’s the right time.”

You speak of Nicola with a love that seems born yesterday, even if you have known each other for years.

“She is beautiful, she is enterprising, she is dynamic. You think that she changed the face of my house, but I mean seriously, we put our hands on it: the floors, furniture [on everything]. She is pragmatic, direct, straightforward. In doing so, she has helped me to shed light on myself, and to better understand who I am.”

And today how would Carolina Morace define herself (in love)?

“I am a woman who loves a woman.”