Collecchio, 31 August 2022 – Antoinette Jewel Williams is the first American player to play for Parma Women, linking up with Domenico Aurelio’s side ahead of this historic Serie A season for women’s football. She spoke to the BBC about various topics:

You’ve played your football across many countries, not just Italy but the USA, Iceland and Sweden as well. What was it about Parma right now that made you want to make the switch?

As a player, one of the biggest questions that I have to ask myself is “am I in an environment where I can get better as a player” and I think that, for me, Parma was somewhere that I saw as I place where I can improve and just go from there.

When you look at Parma as a Club and the history they’ve got; they’re a big name in men’s football. You think about Gigi Buffon, who’s back at the club after everything that he’s achieved in the game. It’s a club that’s linked to so much history in Italian football; that must make it a special feeling as well to think about putting on the jersey.

Yeah, of course, it’s definitely an honour for me and, as I’ve been here, I’ve been learning about the rich history of the Club. When I look at the facilities and all the people, who work here, you can tell it’s very professional and they’ve been doing this for a long time. I think it’s amazing to be starting out with the women’s side in Serie A.

The owners of Parma are from the USA. They’ve talked about their ambitions in women’s football and for this women’s team. That must be great to hear and be a part of as well.

Of course! I’m so happy to hear that because, especially now, for women’s football in the world, we need people like that, who are excited about the women’s game and who are willing to invest in us women. I think that the growth is going to be amazing.

They’ve also talked about record crowds at Camp Nou for Barcelona Women and we’ve just had the Women’s European Championship, you’ve got the expanded Champions League as well. You’ve played football around the world, but do you feel it’s a special time at the moment for women’s football, especially in Europe?

Of course, I think that being in this position right now, playing football, you can see the difference from year one to now and I think that that growth is incredible and it’s just a small look at what the future’s going to be like for us as players and for our visibility and impact in the world as athletes. I think it’s amazing to see and, especially this year, women’s football’s going to explode and I’m so happy to be a part of it and see it.

What are some of the differences that you’ve noticed in Europe because we had the World Cup in 2019 and then the pandemic hit and we maybe lost a little bit of momentum. But do you sense that that’s going the right way again now?

Yes, of course, I think that, especially in terms of viewership and being known and respected as female footballers, it’s gaining a lot of respect. We have more visibility and more games are on TV. More people are looking at the women’s game and actually watching and saying “wow, they’re some of the best players in the world and they can play”. So, I think that as long as women’s football is on TV, it will keep gaining popularity because these women are amazing that I’m playing with and against and it’s just great to see a lot of talent.

Can we talk about this Italian season being a really special one? It is the first time that it’s been professional, so it’s a big moment, isn’t it?

Yeah, very big moment and I think, for a lot of players who have started here or even played here for a little bit, they’ve been waiting for this moment to just say, “ok, we’re being recognized for all of the hard work that we’ve done”. For me, it’s great to be a part of and I also have so much respect for the women, who have played in this league before me, before it went professional, and who have played and fought for that respect of being a fully professional league. I think it’s amazing for me and especially for the founding footballers of this league.

And when you think about this season ahead and the next couple of years, for you and for Parma, what are the hopes and aspirations, given as well that there are going to be so many firsts that you and the Club are going to be experiencing along the way?

Yeah, I think that there’s so much to look forward to. For me personally, the way that I see it is that we get a little bit better every day and every day we’re building and building. That way you don’t set a limit for yourself, it’s like “let’s just see how far we can go, let’s just see how good we can get.” That’s the exciting part: there is no ceiling, there is no limit. We’re just going to keep pushing for something greater.

As we know, Juventus have dominated the Italian women’s league for some time now, but now that other teams are professional, I guess the ultimate aim is to bridge that gap to compete with them and then ultimately look at Europe and the Champions League.

Yeah, definitely. I think that’s the goal – I’m sure – for every team, but especially for Parma, we’re looking at every game as a game that we can win and that we can compete in and do well. I think that a lot of the resources that have been made available have been able to help us do that and hopefully for other clubs too because, being a professional in a professional league, we want everything to be very competitive. The more competitive it gets, the better it is for all the teams in the league because, let’s say you make it to the Champions League, all of that is preparing you for something greater. So it’s great and in that aspect, we’re hoping for a lot of really good competition this year and to just keep getting better.

Finally, how’s it going to feel for you to make your debut, especially for you as well being the first American signing in this new, exciting chapter for Parma Women?

I’m beyond excited and beyond grateful for this experience. I know that, as an American footballer, sometimes it’s a little bit hard to find a club that will take you. It can be a little bit difficult to find ways to play and to think that you have options. I’m just very grateful for the opportunity to play for Parma. Putting on the Parma jersey for the first time will be an accomplishment in itself and I’m so excited to see what I can do to help my team.