Denmark: AaB 89ers LB Cecilie Nielsen paves the way for women’s football in Europe

As the AaB 89ers, Denmark’s oldest American football team, approach their second game of the season, there is one linebacker on the roster who stands out from the crowd.

Her name is Cecilie Aarup Nielsen.

Yep, she is a woman and she is not on the team as a guest. She’s here to play.

In fact, she’s always had that attitude, ever since she discovered the game while on an exchange program with Skyline High School in Washington state in 2015. . During her year abroad, Cecilie got her first experience of high-caliber high school football as Skyline competed as a 4A school and boasted seven state titles. The 5’7, 176 pound Dane had played volleyball for a number of years and was therefore no stranger to competitive sport getting herself quickly involved in ‘powderpuff’ football, which was a blend of contact and flag football, and developed a love for the game instantly. 

Upon her return to Denmark three and a half years ago, she felt unsatisfied with the diet form of football she had played in the States, so Cecilie turned to Facebook and found a newly formed women’s team in Aalborg, only 20 minutes away from her house. Prior to this there had been teams in Copenhagen, Vejle and Aarhus who had been forced to travel outside the Danish borders to Sweden and Germany in search of competition. But in the Fall of 2020, the first women’s league was set to run in Denmark, although was later revised to early May 2021 due to COVID.

Cecilie soon found out that she was not only a great athlete but also that she was a competitor:

The women’s team is a mix of people who have never played the sport before and think it’s cool and those that come for the team building and the social aspect. And even though it’s fun I also want to challenge myself some more. So I spoke with the U19 men’s team and asked if I could play with them.

After a number of practices, Cecilie successfully made the squad in 2020 and began to play in the U19 league. Although Cecilie is set to finish her bachelor’s degree at University College of Northern Denmark next year, she is still eligible to play in the U19 league due to a Danish football rule that states women can play in one men’s league lower than their current league.

At the beginning of 2021, she still had a feeling she could push herself to accomplish more, so Cecilie began to attend the men’s national league practice, the AaB 89ers. For Cecilie this means getting onto the field at 5.30 pm and not finishing until 9.30 pm twice a week, which anyone with a modicum of football experience will know is not for the faint-hearted. She again was selected for the active roster and suited up for her first men’s adult competition two weeks ago against the Copenhagen Towers.

Cecilie Aarup Nielsen #52 poses with 89ers prior to opening game against the Copenhagen Towers Photo: 1st Down Photo

Cecilie comments on the physical aspect of the game and how it differs to the women’s league:

Well, it was quite a shock at first, okay we’re playing 110% everytime! But once I got into that mentality it just felt right. I like the physicality. In the beginning the other guys weren’t sure if they could tackle me, but then I tackled someone and they realized I go hard too. 

I had to put myself out there like, it is kind of challenging but it’s something else to be the only girl there at first, but then I always like to push myself. I’m not going to be the last one in line, I’m not going to be the last one out there because they will keep seeing me as a guest to the team and not an actual part of the team.

This coming weekend the AaB 89ers will face off against the Søllerød Gold Diggers in a game that the 89ers will feel is their opportunity to claim their first win of the season. Cecilie may only be limited to one quarter of playing time though as she also has a U19 game the following day and league rules state that only a quarter can be played by the player if consecutive days of competition are on the schedule in different leagues. Regardless, she wants to be out there for the right reasons:

Our coach wants as many people as possible for the men’s game, so if he needs to sub me in he’ll do that to keep rotation high as some of the other U19 players play with the men as well.

I hope to get in more. I don’t want any precautions taken against me because I’m a woman. I want to be treated like a regular player, which all the coaches and players have done so far anyway. I hope I’m on the roster because of my ability and not just because the team wants to have a tokenistic woman. I can play, and I want to show that.

Cecilie hopes that she can inspire more women to play, no matter where they are from, as well as develop the women’s league in Denmark. Her humble yet quietly confident demeanor along with her unrelenting drive is nothing but inspiring. In a sport that can sometimes exclude or sexualize the opposite gender, Cecilie is not only paving the way for others like her but also showing the broadmindedness of the Danish league.

Watch Cecilie and her fellow AaB 89ers teammates as they play the Søllerød Gold Diggers, Saturday, June 5 at 7 pm on AFI.tv

 

Daniel Mackenzie is a Press Association graduate who has worked in B2B journalism and comms in the third sector; with experience in both education and human rights. He has played football for the London Warriors for the last 15 years as well as the