Braveheart Ladies team captain, Josephine Ojineme, felt like giving up on her football career when she fell into depression during the Covid-19 lockdown, but her passion for the game encouraged her to continue chasing her dream.
Ojineme, whose big dream is to play for Nigeria, says that she managed to keep herself together as she read articles about mental health and her team started to keep her focused with online training sessions.
She says that with the team fully back in training on the field as lockdown restrictions have been lifted, she is ready to lead the way to uplift women’s football in her homeland.
Apart from playing football and studying Orthopedics at the State Institute of Health, Ojineme is an advocate – fighting for sport equality and against rape.
She is not happy with the state of women’s sport in Africa, saying that in football there are situations were funding is massively allocated to the men’s teams only and the women are left to feed on scraps.
As a budding professional footballer, she is eager to change the face of women’s football by staying disciplined and giving the federation a good reason as to why they should be investing in women’s sport.
She praises Nigerian’ Women Football league President Aisha Falode for transforming the league despite the continuous challenges that they have to endure.
Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Ojineme chats about her father’s influence in her football career and she reveals the sportswomen who inspire her.
Josephine, please introduce yourself and tell us more about you.
My name is Josephine Ojineme, a female footballer currently playing for Bravehearts Ladies which a grassroots team based in southern Nigeria. I’m also an advocate against rape and activist for sport equality. I was born in Benin city and grew up playing football from a very young age. I’m from a small family of four, my mom, dad and a brother who’s elder. My dad worked as a horticulturist while my mom a trader.
I’m currently studying Orthopedics at the State Institute of Health, trying to balance both football and my normal academic activities.
How has the Covid-19 lockdown impacted you and how are you managing this time?
“This was really good news for me as these sessions kept me busy until finally the government restrictions were lifted.” – Braveheart Ladies captain, Josephine Ojineme
The lockdown came as a shock to me and for the first few weeks as I struggled with depression. I really felt like giving up but then I read articles about mental health online and how to cope during lockdown. Luckily also for me, the team began organizing virtual/online training sessions. This was really good news for me as these sessions kept me busy until finally the government restrictions were lifted.
I’m so glad to be back in training but the most valuable lesson I learnt was that life is unpredictable. Be strong, be mentally ready for anything, be willing to adapt. That’s the true test of your character.
Are you back playing football?
Well, lucky for us, the pandemic in Africa wasn’t as severe as most experts predicted so grassroots football resumed earlier than expected. So, truth is, I’m already back playing, #smiles!
How did you keep fit during lockdown?
Keeping fit wasn’t much of a challenge. The virtual online sessions had fitness programs attached to them, so participating in these programs met all my needs physically.
How did you fall in love with sport?
It’s actually a very interesting story, my dad (he passed away just last year), was an avid lover of sports. Every Saturday he took me to a sports picnic, with different types of sports and we were told to choose. Well, I chose football, so I guess maybe I was born with this passion. I actually began as a goalkeeper, I think I was merely 7 years at that time. My friends and family saw how good I was and from them supported me. Right now, I play central defence, but the passion remains unchanged. But I’ll never forget those early days, when I first got acquainted.
When did you realise you wanted to make a career out of football?
“I got a lot of praise and encouragement, many football scouts and the football fans approached me after the game and advised me to seriously consider playing professionally, this was when my journey began, and I began to take things seriously.” – Ojineme speaks on when she began to take football seriously.
I actually started out playing for the passion alone, but it all changed in 2019 when my grassroot team enrolled in the National FA cup. Although we lost our first match 3-0 but I got a lot of praise and encouragement, many football scouts and the football fans approached me after the game and advised me to seriously consider playing professionally, this was when my journey began, and I began to take things seriously.
What have been your career highlights to date?
My best moment was winning the most valuable player at the Institute of Health female football competition organized by my school in January 2019. I actually played as striker scoring six goals and winning the highest goal scorer award! A truly unforgettable moment…
I also won the Most Valuable Player award at the just concluded International Red Cross Female Football Tournament. The Red Cross Officials were so impressed by my performance that I was given a brand-new pair of boots. Really enjoyed that!
What are some of the lessons you have learnt along the way?
“Discipline is so important as it is the difference between success and failure, between winning and losing, and as captain of the team I ensure discipline in every aspect of team training.” – Ojineme speaks on always being disciplined.
Firstly, the most important lesson I have learnt is an indispensable attribute – discipline. Discipline is so important as it is the difference between success and failure, between winning and losing, and as captain of the team I ensure discipline in every aspect of team training. Even during matches I make sure the team is tactically disciplined enough to effectively carry out the tactics and game plan of the manager. Discipline is paramount!
In addition to this I have also learnt that the team is more than just teammates coming together, it’s more like a family and my teammates, like sisters. We try to live in harmony as one and fulfil our objectives together.
How would you describe the state of women’s sport in Africa?
The state of female sports in Africa needs so much work. Dealing with the ubiquitous sexist mentality and assumption that women sports is to supposed to play second fiddle to the men is a big challenge. Especially in football, we see situations were funding is massively allocated to men sports only and the women are left to feed on scraps. Just last year for example our state organised a youth league excluding all female participants. When we protested against this decision and insisted that the girls be allowed to participate we were told that the State FA officials were too busy to create a separate female league and that the girls should simply come and watch the boys play. Ridiculous! Sexism needs to be removed completely from the equation before female sports can really gain momentum, especially at the grassroots level.
What can the rest of the world learn from Nigeria about the promotion of women’s sport?
I think the current Nigeria Women Football league (NWFL) President Aisha Falode has done a fantastic job. Despite the challenges in women’s football over the years, Aisha has completely transformed female football in Nigeria by revamping the league, making it more organized and creating international partnerships. This has greatly encouraged young female footballers everywhere; they now have renewed interest in playing locally. Would it have been the same situation if the president was a man? I don’t think so.
What can the International community learn from the growth of female football in Nigeria?
Give more positions to women, especially in the area of sports, let the women be represented! Women of great character can be a real catalyst for change.
What is your advice for young girl footballers about following their dreams?
Simple – be hardworking, be focused, watch your lifestyle, be ambitious, set your heart on success and pay attention to your coaches!
Who are the female sportswomen who inspire you and why?
Wendie Renard, the French women’s team captain. Her leadership abilities, her tendency to score important goals even from a centre-back position is something that inspires me.
Also, Karolina Pliskova, one of the best female tennis players I have ever watched. The fact that she came from a humble background to become a world champion inspires me to believe that dreams do come true.
What is your greatest sporting ambition?
To play for the Nigerian Super Falcons has always been my dream. I believe they are the greatest team in history and I’ll never stop until I put on that green and white jersey!
Photo 1 Caption: Braveheart Ladies team captain, Josephine Ojineme, felt like giving up on her football career when she suffered with depression during the Covid-19 lockdown, but her passion for the game encouraged her to continue chasing her dream.
Photo 2 Caption: Ojineme, whose big dream is to play for the Nigerian women’s national team, says that she managed to keep herself together as she read articles about mental health and her team started to keep her focused with online training sessions.
Photo 3 Caption: She says that with the team fully back in training on the field as lockdown restrictions have been lifted, she is ready to lead the way to uplift women’s football in her homeland.