Hedvig Lindahl could not have predicted where the request for her shirt in April 2018 would lead. Then at Chelsea, the goalkeeper was asked to donate her kit to a charity auction by the photographer Daniela Porcelli and two years’ later the pair are leading a small team of volunteers encouraging bids for 20 signed shirts for their #TogetherAgainstCorona campaign.
The project is hosted by The One Goal, founded by their meeting at Chelsea’s match against Arsenal at Boreham Wood and the venture will donate 80% of the money raised to the World Health Organization.
Lindahl saw an opportunity to use her profile to build on an idea she and Porcelli pretty much stumbled on. The motivation was simple. “As a female football player, how much of my salary goes back into my business?” says Lindahl, who has 169 caps for Sweden. “How often do I pay for women’s football? Not a lot of money from players’ salaries goes back into women’s football. So that’s money leaving the game.
“We wanted to find a way to put money back in the women’s game as much as possible, so money from our sales goes to programmes or projects that operate around women’s and girl’s football. We funnel the money from the top. From kits and fans back into grassroots.”
The One Goal is a way of helping players do something good while promoting their own image. It has also proved there is a market for women’s merchandise and memorabilia.
“It’s not easy if you’re a women’s football fan to get memorabilia,” Lindhal says. “Getting hold of my goalkeeper jersey for Sweden was super hard. I had to really nag the provider.
“The 2013 Euros at home in Sweden saw the tiny number of jerseys available sell out very quickly but there was no backup plan. Nobody thought there would be demand. We’re offering authentic kit to fans. It’s bridging a gap in the demand.”
In the grand scheme of things, their numbers are not huge – bidding on the 14 signed shirts they have so far for the current campaign is at £6,360 – and Lindahl is aware that one event with a male player “will raise that in one evening with ease”.
She adds: “You have to start somewhere. We’ve broken the first hurdle: players think we’re serious and they want to be seen with us. We’ve got really good names for this campaign and suddenly it’s interesting for players to be around us and that’s so important.”
An urge to give back and build the game was triggered by two coinciding events – the arrival of the first of two children with her wife, Sabine, in 2014, and watching the impact of the war in Syria. “When you have that child and you’re snuggling with them, caring for them, and you see how vulnerable they are and how much love they give you, then you see and read about children [in Syria] and it’s like: ‘What? This is not OK,’” she says.
“I’d just became a parent and was able to connect the dots more. I’ve been busy playing football but when that slowed down it’s hard not to look around you. I had a slow awakening but I feel a strong need to be active.”
The 37-year-old is preparing to resume the season with Wolfsburg having signed last summer after four and a half years at Chelsea. They began training five weeks ago in small groups and have progressed to full workouts “wearing all the protection, keeping distance, cleaning all of the gym stuff, not changing into our training gear in the dressing room, going home to shower”.
Was there any fear about restarting? “Germany is known for being very organised. The healthcare system and leadership has been very good. It feels like they have control,” she says. “In the beginning I really thought about whether our children would be at greater risk because we don’t know much about this virus. I can only hope my team are being very careful because we all put each other at risk.”
The move to Wolfsburg has done wonders for Lindahl. “I always had a lot of belief in myself,” she says. “There would be rough periods but nothing could touch that inner core belief: I know I’m good and I know I can do great things. But that last spring at Chelsea really got to me deep down inside. I started to doubt myself for the first time in my career.
“One of the big goals for me at Chelsea was to build the club into one that could compete for the Champions League. We were finally there, we were going to face these big clubs and I’m not involved any longer. I was thrown out in the end when we were going to tie it up. That’s football for you, it’s down to you to handle it, be professional and do your work.”
Sweden’s World Cup run, which ended with a narrow defeat to the Netherlands in the semi-finals, helped Lindahl recover and earn her a contract with the German champions.
“It was mental. When my thinking got ‘mended’ my ability was still there. The World Cup fixed that for me,” she says with a grin. “I’m back.”