Lisa De Vanna interview: Matildas live wire shooting from the hip and playing from the heart
One of the best around when in full flow, Australian forward Lisa De Vanna has scaled the heights and confronted the setbacks, and as a player who performs with as much heart as anyone you will find, the new Sky Blue FC signing has the music to tune seamlessly into each emotion along her way.
The 2007 FIFA World Player of the Year nominee has ensured that life around her has never been dull since her breakthrough in the women’s game, leading the attacking charge for her national team the Westfield Matildas with frantic skill and energy, with an effervescent if edgy personality to match. The 28-year-old was born in Perth but her career has taken in some significant air miles, with international travels with Australia to go with a club CV that has seen her play in the highly reputable leagues of Sweden, England and the USA. It is the latter nation she has returned to as she begins a new spell of her story with Sky Blue FC in New Jersey for the inaugural campaign of the National Women’s Soccer League. Lisa may live on the edge of the game’s rules but she is always exciting to watch and above all else she has that will to win and the compulsion to run herself into the ground for her teammates, and that is truly innate. The way that music lights the fuse for togetherness, motivation, nostalgia and indeed many other emotions and qualities is at the fulcrum of this site’s concept and Lisa can certainly identify with this, in sport and in life.
“Music can relate to everybody, I think it brings out your emotions, from getting hyped for a game, to getting your heart broken. I think it’s important to a lot of people and I think music can bond a team on and off the field.
“It also breaks the ice from thinking about important games too.’’
After representing a succession of teams in Australia in her early career including Adelaide Sensation and Western Waves, Lisa ventured to Doncaster Rovers Belles in England before a goal-laden stay with AIK in Sweden’s Damallsvenskan in 2008. Her time back home with Perth Glory, Brisbane Roar and Newcastle Jets has intertwined with testing herself in Women’s Professional Soccer in the US with Washington Freedom and magicJack, as well as making an impact in Sweden once more with Linköping. Wearing the colours of these teams has meant that Lisa has played alongside so many colleagues from across the world and consequently had a first-hand insight into these players’ respective cultures. A heritage can undeniably be illustrated by music but it is the sounds that the national team have listened to that sticks in her mind. The Matildas’ goalkeeper and captain Melissa Barbieri and talented young midfielder Emily van Egmond have both previously talked about the music of the team and Lisa adds her own memory into the mix!
“Different teams and different countries have different types but the one that comes to mind was Eminem’s (featuring Nate Dogg) ‘Shake That’. It was the Matildas’ song for a while, even though we knew it was degrading we would dance to it after every win.
“Not so much now with the young kids, mind you, music these days is nothing to what I used to listen to. Some teams come out to a certain song which can be motivating.’’
As Lisa hinted at it there, what does the 2007 Western Australian Sportswoman of the Year listen to in the build-up to a game as well as in her time away from tearing towards opposition defences?
“I like any music besides hard techno or real hardcore. I love the 80s and early 90s, when I have a game I like pumped-up music that you can sing to.
“On my way home I like chilled slow music. Mariah Carey is one of my favourite artists.
“I think my first album was 2Pac and I was 14 years old. I usually listen to my older sibling’s music that ranges from grunge to Roy McCory.’’
When Lisa joined Newcastle Jets she did so after being persuaded by the club’s former defender and all-time Matildas great Cheryl Salisbury. The Australian Football Hall of Fame inductee was also a player Lisa worked alongside for the national team during the 2004 Olympics in Athens and the 2007 World Cup in China in which Lisa really rose to prominence in the minds of observers of the game. During this World Cup, she struck twice in the Matildas’ 4-1 win over Ghana in Hangzhou before producing a brilliant left-footed equaliser late on at the same venue three days later (15th September) against Norway. The team progressed after finishing 2nd in the group before being defeated by eventual tournament runners-up Brazil, although both Lauren Colthorpe and Lisa were on the scoresheet in the 3-2 loss in Tianjin. Her efforts sealed her place in the All-Star Team alongside such greats of the women’s game as Kelly Smith (England), Marta (Brazil) and Birgit Prinz (Germany) – a special and fitting way to honour her father’s memory after he had sadly passed in the months before the World Cup.
Four years later, the 2011 World Cup in Germany saw Australia make it to the last eight once more, this time being stopped by Sweden 3-1. Lisa had earlier scored a crucial goal in the 3-2 group stage victory over Equatorial Guinea and on the day of the quarter-final defeat the Swedes had goalkeeper Sofia Lundgren on the bench, someone that Lisa holds in very high regard, as we will find out later. Long-serving Matildas coach (now leading the US team) Tom Sermanni once described Lisa as ‘feisty’ and ‘unpredictable’ and together they had their ups and downs. He also said Lisa ‘had that X-Factor’ and in turn she credits him as a major influence on her career and someone who put the team first. In January, Melissa Barbieri mentioned on here that the Scot did not mind what was played in the Matildas dressing room as long as it was turned down when he had to speak. Singing and dancing is part of the squad’s make-up as a collective unit, although the tradition of performing a song as a new player which is prevalent here in England is not something Lisa has experienced to date.
“Yes I hear that but I have not really seen it much. I have never had to sing by myself but we do have a team chant.
“It starts off by ‘it’s a grand old team to play for’ (sung by Glasgow Celtic and Everton most prominently). Also, some of the younger players rap much better than I can.
“I can’t really name a good or bad one but the older generation seem to just hum to the lyrics we do not know!’’
In the early stages of 2012, the news that the Women’s Professional Soccer division in the US would be suspended was eventually followed by the revelation that the league would fold. Some nine years previously, the Women’s United Soccer Association, which began still on the crest of the wave from the 1999 World Cup, had also come to an end after three seasons as the premier competition in the women’s game. The National Women’s Soccer League is set to begin play in the coming weeks and its eight teams are currently going through pre-season preparation. Lisa will play for New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC who get underway on Sunday April 14th when they host Western New York Flash at Yurcak Field. There is naturally a lot of anticipation surrounding the new league and interest has been building consistently so far this year. The previous struggles for professional women’s soccer in the US that led to the aforementioned leagues disbanding are well-documented but I asked Lisa for the positives and why the NWSL can be a success.
“I think that the women’s game has become more known in the past few years. There are some big names being mentioned on the back pages of papers and the support in countries such as the USA, France, England, Sweden and Australia has really helped.
“One thing that I do feel has helped the sport was the Olympic final in London. To see 70,000 people watch a women’s game was amazing.
“The key really is the interest and passion from the fans. Sometimes I play in stadiums that can hold 15,000 people with only two or three hundred there.
“I say to those who like football, come along and support the team, without support no sport can survive.’’
A 2010 AFC Women’s Asian Cup and 2010/11 W-League winner (with Brisbane Roar), Lisa had the chance to join teams in England, Russia and Sweden before deciding on a move to the States with Sky Blue. At 28, she surely has many years to come in the game but the young talent bursting through the Australian national team has meant Lisa has become one of the Matildas’ senior figures. One of new coach Hesterine de Reus’ top young players is 18-year-old right-sider Caitlin Foord who made history as Australia’s youngest World Cup player at 16. She was a W-League champion with Sydney FC in January and she has joined up with Lisa at Sky Blue for the coming season. The team is managed by Jim Gabarra, a former US international forward who coached Lisa at Washington Freedom, and they will also have defensive legend Christie Rampone in the ranks. US star Rampone is a friend and former teammate of Lisa’s at magicJack and someone who Lisa managed to leave trailing as she burst through to score for the Matildas against the US last year (some achievement considering Rampone’s pace!). It will be down to such experienced players in the Sky Blue team to help guide youngsters such as Caitlin Foord, and Lisa can offer support to her after a career of travelling and adapting to new places.
“I can’t wait for the season to start, I’m looking forward to seeing my old teammates. I have no idea what to expect, I don’t think the quality is as good as the WPS days but with USA players you know you’ve got to battle no matter what.
“When your life has been a suitcase you learn to adjust and you know that the first week is the hardest – that’s when all your thoughts and emotions come out. Then I always think to myself: ‘I can’t do this forever, one day it’s going to stop and I won’t be able to do the sport I love’.
“Sometimes when things are bad, you think about being home, having a 9-5 job would be better and having your family around would be nice. You do miss out on important milestones but then I think I’ve made great friends around, so there are pros and cons.
“I think Caitlin is adjusting well, being so young. Mind you, she isn’t alone, she has me to help her.
“I think her being away is going to mature her very quickly. She now knows how to use a washing machine!’’
Matildas supporters look back on 2007 as a fond time and their arrival on the global stage in many ways as they made the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time. Lisa was a huge part of that and she believes that any physical pain she suffers is nothing to her when she is out there fighting for her team. She has been recapturing some of that form in recent times, helping Linköping to 3rd in the Damallsvenskan after linking up with Dutch star Manon Melis to propel them up the table. After returning home to Perth Glory for the W-League season she was one of the standouts as they came 2nd in the regular season before losing out on penalties to Melbourne Victory in the semi-final. The W-League is ever-growing in numerous respects and the 2012-13 campaign was proof of this.
“I was very moved and surprised by the number of fans coming out for the W-League when I was back home. I found the passion for the sport was more than in Sweden at times.
“There will always be ignorance about how it’s a man’s sport but women’s football has been around a long time and will be way after my boots are hung up. Anyone who doubts women’s football should just look at the passion we play with.
“Come down to a live game. You won’t be sorry!’’
A player with non-stop intensity, Lisa is someone who you would always choose to play on your team rather than against you. Her pace, dribbling ability and finishing are outstanding when she is at her best and off the field she is never afraid to speak her mind. Although there may have been some suspensions in her career, if you love and appreciate the game you cannot help but respect how she plays, whether you are male or female. As Lisa begins her time with Sky Blue and targets a key role in Matildas coach Hesterine de Reus’ plans we look back on the teammates she has had to this point. I ask her to select four of the best from her past colleagues who she would choose alongside her in a 5-a-side team. The game needs people like Lisa and I would bet this line-up could mix it with the very best of them!
“Goalkeeper, Sofia Lundgren – should be Sweden’s number one keeper, best one-on-one stopper ever. Plays with her heart on her sleeve, great with the ball at her feet, if it is one-on-one I would rather have her in goal than anyone else I have played with – awesome friend and player.
“Defence, Sonia Bompastor – the best left-back in the world. She’s just a hard worker, determined, a player with lots of heart.
“I grew as a player with her, the way she would put her body on the line and get up and down the line is amazing. Not to mention her deadly left foot, accurate, passionate and deadly at crossing!
“Striker, Christine Sinclair – a wonderful and prolific all-round player. Speed, left and right foot, strong, world-class header of the ball, composed in front of goal.
“To me, the best striker in the world at the moment. I appreciate players who do well and can score for country and club – she is a world-class striker.
“Midfielder – tough one! To be honest I can’t think of anyone because I have so many.
“Last season I would say Louise Fors, Petra Larsson, Nilla Fischer and of course players like Katie Gill, Shannon Boxx, Collette McCallum – all are great! For skill I would go for Louise Fors.’’