Watching boys playing football on evenings after school inspired Gabriella Lopez to try out the sport when she was just five years old.
It’s a decision the now 26-year-old will never regret, as she is arguably one of the best female central defensive midfielders on the island—not to mention captain of the national women’s football team.
“I started football when i was in primary school at St Angela’s. I was always interested in sports and decided to try football at five years old with Pro Shottas. Pro Shottas club was based at my primary school, so I used to watch the older boys play which made me want to try it out,” she recalled.
Her love for sports is in her genes, it seems. Her family are huge tennis fans, with her father running two tennis facilities in Barbados. So playing tennis and football at a high level came naturally.
Having completed her territory education at The St Michael School and Combermere School, she went on to teach at St Winifred’s School where she mixed academics and extracurricular activities and gained a football scholarship at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
She completed a double major in Political Science and Mass Communications there, then went on to pursue a Master’s degree while a graduate assistant at Cedar Crest University, before moving back home in 2015.
Lopez subsequently joined Women’s League Champions UWI Blackbirds and helped them capture the title as a key figure protecting the defence while bagging six goals for the whole of last season.
However, she admitted that balancing work and club and national duty was bit of a task.
“My schedules vary depending on if I’m in season. But currently, the national team trains twice a week which leaves me to do some work on my own on my off days. This has been a very difficult task with practice almost every day when in season. But I’ve been able to make it work with as much rest on my off time as possible. There’s not much room for a social life outside of football and being a mom,” Lopez said.
During the interview with Barbados TODAY, she took the opportunity to share one of her most memorable encounters which occurred last November when the national team finished as runner-up in the Windward Island Tournament in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
“The team was filled with heart and the girls worked hard collectively to eventually finish second in the five-day tournament. The game against St Vincent was thrilling, as we were behind for most of the game and scored in the dying minutes to equalize with the home team which had a home crowd that
was particularly enthusiastic. Eventually, some of the Vincy fans were cheering for us at moments.”
Being the captain of any team is “always a huge responsibility”, she said. And Lopez, who leads a very young unit on to the field most match days, sees herself as a role model for the girls.
“My first time as captain was in the Under-21 team which travelled to Suriname in 2008 – definitely one of my most memorable moments – and currently I still feel a huge sense of pride and responsibility on my current senior team with the captaincy.
“I’ve always been on teams where I was the youngest player, so now that age is catching up with me it feels like I have an even bigger responsibility as role model for the younger players on the team. I pride the girls on the respect they have given me for the last few years, and the hard work and respect that they have shown to the coaches and management staff.”
The big fan of repeat English premier league champions Chelsea FC – and whose favourite player is former Stamford Bridge forward Didier Drogba – hopes to see women’s football continue to develop across Barbados.
“Women’s football is constantly growing worldwide. Barbados has definitely gotten on board with this idea, and the inception of Live your Goals [Female Football Programme] has done a good job of sensitizing about female football in Barbados.
Although it’s getting better, other countries in the world seem to be moving at a much faster pace than we are as it relates to the overall development of female football. So, hopefully, Barbados can continuously develop in order to catch up to at least the other similar sized countries,” she said.