Amelia del Castillo: La Pionera

Screenshot 2019-04-28 at 22.25.01
Image Credit: rtve.es

 

Situated halfway between the centre of Spain’s capital Madrid and the picturesque day-tripper destination of Aranjuez the community of Pinto is not the kind of place where you would expect a revolution to have begun, never mind one that would not only have a lasting impact on women’s football in the Iberian Peninsula but on Spanish football as a whole. It’s the early 1960’s and El Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still in power. For woman of the time even the most mundane of activities, ones that we all take for granted to this day, cannot be completed by will alone. Should you want to apply for a drivers licence your ability to do so is subject to the rationales of your marital partner. If you needed to open a bank account it would be your marital partner that would have the final say on whether it’s need meets the requirements of the home. You can’t get divorced unless your husband decides your relationship has reached its end and should you have a child it is the father’s right to give them up for adoption without the need for your consent. Nostalgia at times can be a wonderful thing, a misty-eyes nod to the past towards perceived better times, but for many Spanish women who grew up in Francoist Spain memories of that time leaves no such warm and fuzzy feeling.

It’s these challenges, plus the many, many more that she would face that make the story of Amelia del Castillo, Spanish football’s first female president, even more remarkable in the face of continuing and sometimes boundless adversity. From an early age Amelia was already aware that the emotions that can be elicited from football fandom show no discrimination for gender. Atletico de Madrid became her first enabler with a communion gift of a club pin becoming the first bump to what would eventually evolve into a life long addiction. This addiction though was destined for far greater things than just waving a scarf on the terraces.

With her friends keen to participate in a Youth Front organised tournament in the southern Madrid town of Getafe Amelia took on the role of organiser. As the only person old enough in her group to do so she completed the registrations and sourced the equipment so that they could compete, all this despite the fact that she herself was unable to play as regulations stated, “it was forbidden for women to play football or be coaches, delegates or referees.” They didn’t however mention anything about the presidency of a club and so in 1961 the then 18 year old Amelia, with her resolve emboldened by what she had achieved with her friends in Getafe, founded La Flecha de Pinto (The Arrow of Pinto) football club. At a time when women could hardly achieve anything without the gesticulation of a man’s hand, this truly was a huge step for any woman to take, let alone a teenager. Of course though there were many more challenges to come.

Firstly Amelia did not just undertake the role of president but that too of match delegate and coach, three roles as absolute in their distinction then as they are today but even with this workload and despite the strides she was trying to make it was not only men who seemed determined to stand in her way. In a 2014 interview with Canal Plus she recounted, “Amazingly there was not much criticism at first but even friends of mine, their mothers, they did not let them come with me.” As if the hurdles weren’t already enough she was also refused entry to training courses again as a result of her gender and instead relied on theory based classes, coupling these with her background in gymnastics to help in the training of her team. A team, it’s worth making clear, of men.

In 1963 Amelia decided that to truly progress the step needed to be taken to move La Flecha underneath the auspice of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF). This however would require funding with the need to play within an enclosed stadium as opposed to an open field proving to be the biggest hurdle to overcome. Never one to back down from a challenge she, and those that were helping her, acquired a camera with which they aimed to raffle off to raise funds. As football fans are often inclined to do she looked to one of her heroes in her time of need approaching Vicente Calderon (the same Vicente Calderon who Atletico de Madrid had named their stadium after until their 2017 move to the Wanda Metropolitiano) to see if he would be interested in purchasing some tickets. Much to Amelia’s surprise Calderon not only bought all the tickets on offer but also invited her to a meeting where she could further articulate her aspirations.

Clearly her case had been compelling and it would soon prove to be the start of an extremely fruitful arrangement as Calderon continued to support her endeavours in a number of ways. For a start he provided free medical services for the Pinto players. The everyday sundries of football that are so often taken for granted such as balls, shirts and even training cones he gave her provision for and perhaps most significantly he donated the building materials required from his own company to help close off the pitch and raise the levels to meet RFEF regulations. These acts, no doubt boosted by her affection for Los Rojiblancos, prompted Amelia to change the name of the club from La Flecha de Pinto to Club Atletico de Pinto, the name it continues to go by to this day and an enduring act of gratitude to the support given to her by Calderon. It’s worth noting that her cause was also aided by the likes of Rayo Vallecano and Real Madrid but it is her relationship with Calderon that was key in seeing the club grow. Her story soon gained international attention, after all she was the only female president in Spanish football, with her story even crossing the Atlantic and landing in New York. With the club now fully affiliated to the federation and Franco’s reign entering it’s final years it would be fair to assume that from here things would have only continued on an upward trajectory but in football, whether it be on the field or off it, things never go quite that way.

In 1975 and after twelve years Amelia, with a board of directors in place and with designs on improving the commerciality of the club received a letter from the then mayor of Pinto, Daniel Martin, it’s content adding an unnecessarily cruel twist to her story. Having seen the club gain increasing support and recognition within the community Martin, instead of engaging with Amelia, sent CA Pinto’s founding mother a letter demanding that she step down from her role with the club and that if she did not he would create another club in the town, throwing all the administrative finance he could at it with a view to running Club Atletico de Pinto out of business. Despite the protestations of her colleagues within the club, Amelia decided that it would be for the greater good to step aside, her only crime, being a woman.

Her work in bringing football to the town never went forgotten, and although a wait of 25 years is most certainly a wait too long, on the 5th August 2000 a petition started by the incumbent president of the club led to a motion that would see Amelia del Castillo installed as honorary president along with a renaming of the side’s home ground from the Estadio Municipal de Pinto to Estadio Municipal de Amelia de Castillo.

Screenshot 2019-04-28 at 22.06.43
Image Credit: Roddy Cons @TheTeamOnTour

 

She still attends games at the stadium which she is now synonymous with to this day and in a February 2019 sit-down interview conducted via CA Pinto’s YouTube channel she tells of the strong relationship that she has with the side’s current president Oscar Garvin, acting as a confidante and offering advice as and when requested. CA Pinto, despite their modest status in the Tercera Division are committed to the creation of a women’s side something which Amelia is excited for with a hope that one day she will see her granddaughters don the black and red of a club which she calls in that same interview, “mi primer hijo” – my first child.

Her legacy has been lasting not only in Pinto but across the women’s game in Spain. In 2016 Eibar, currently plying their trade in Spain’s top tier, appointed Amaia Gorostiza Telleria as their, and also the Primera Divison’s, first ever female president. A role she is still succeeding in to this day. At a time of oppression for Spanish women, where it seemed your chromosomal constitution was more important than anything you wished to do or achieve, Amelia del Castillo not only survived but she thrived.

She was not only a pioneer she was: La Pionera.

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If you want to see what Estadio Municipal Amelia del Castillo looks like now then you can do so via Roddy Cons excellent YouTube Channel The Team on Tour exploring the lower leagues in Madrid and beyond. If it wasn’t for his video from CA Pinto’s Tercera Division clash with Santa Ana I never would have known about Amelia del Castillo, had my curiosity raised to read further about her story and then commit what I had learned to the pages of Leading the Line. The link to it I have included here.

 

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