The foot that launched 1,000 goals

When Silvi Jean started out, women couldn’t even play soccer as a hobby in an organized framework. Now 38, the Assa Tel Aviv player has just reached a major milestone.

Silvi Jean 300 (photo credit: Courtesy of Silvi Jean)
Silvi Jean 300
(photo credit: Courtesy of Silvi Jean)
Silvi Jean, considered the country’s top female soccer player, joined the likes of Brazilian greats Pele and Romario last month as she kicked in her 1,000th goal.
“I’m so happy!” the soccer star enthused, buzzing with adrenaline after the match. “This is an amazing moment that I have dreamed about ever since I started to play.”
After scoring the epic goal, she removed her T-shirt to reveal another one beneath, with the words “A thousand times thank-you to God” printed on it.
“It’s such a great feeling – now I have achieved everything I wanted,” she glowed.
When I spoke to Jean before the match, she said the challenge of reaching 1,000 goals excited her. She remembered that when she temporarily quit soccer four years ago, she had been at 844 goals and felt disappointed that she hadn’t made it to 1,000. When she decided to return to the pitch in 2009, she took it upon herself to accomplish what few strikers in the world have managed.
NOW 38, Jean, the youngest of four children, was born in Netanya. She displayed a talent for the Beautiful Game early on, which her teachers and coaches quickly noticed.
Unfortunately, in those days, there was no framework for female soccer players, and she played only at school and during her free time. Soccer coach Alon Shrayer was the man who made sure her skills did not go to waste.
He spotted her playing at school and invited her to join a boys’ team. As a girl, however, she was not allowed to play in the league, and so couldn’t take this offer very far.
Eventually Shrayer helped Jean reach Norway – the country with the best women’s league at the time – where at the age of 22, she played professionally for the first time. It was during her four years there that she became the queen of goals that she is today.
She describes her Norwegian life as a female soccer player in positive terms, stressing that in comparison with her subsequent career in the same field in Israel, it was much more professional, conditions for women players were better and they received more encouragement and media attention.
“If I lived in another country, they would have rolled out the red carpet for me in honor of my 1,000th goal!” she says, half joking, half regretful of the situation in Israel.
News that her father was seriously ill was what brought her back home, she recalls; he later died.
Her mother had died several years earlier, before Jean left for Norway, and that had been a contributing factor in her desire to get away for a while. Her father left his real-estate business to the family, which has since managed it together – and this, she says, is the reason she never left the country again, despite offers from the US, Sweden and Germany to join their teams.
She resumed her soccer career in Hapoel Tel Aviv, where she remained for three years, winning the “double” (the league championship and national cup in the same year). She then moved to Maccabi Holon, which was transformed from an average team to a winning one; during the five years she played on it, the team won the double one year and the championship another year.
In 2007, the sports star decided to hang up her soccer boots and call it a day.
“I was bored, and there was no challenge left,” she explains. “I had won trophies and cups; I’d done everything I wanted.”
During her two years off, she took some time for herself, as well as coaching girls in Assa Tel Aviv. The team hadn’t won a championship or national cup for years and kept coming in at second place. It eventually approached her and asked if she would join and help the players go that extra mile. She saw the offer as a fresh challenge and accepted; the team has since won the double and another championship.
GIVEN THAT when Jean started out, women couldn’t even play soccer as a hobby in an organized framework, Israel seems to have come a long way.
The soccer star agrees that it has evolved, but notes that it has since gotten stuck in the same place.
“No one is developing it in the way that it needs to be developed. More groups need to be opened for girls in school and in the league. There needs to be more encouragement for girls to play. Yes, there are some young girls who play, but it’s not enough,” she stresses. “My generation is getting older; a new generation is arriving, and it is its role to develop it.”
She offers two reasons she believes there is a shortage of girls playing the game.
“Not every mom wants her daughter to play football. Sometimes girls want to, and they are stopped by their parents,” she says.
In addition, she continues, many girls are more interested in investing their time in boys and their social lives: “Not everyone wants to give up on these things,” she says, emphasizing that “soccer takes a lot from your life.”
She tells me that she loved soccer since she was a tiny girl, and sacrificed a lot for it. “It’s a great love in my life, and I enjoy every minute,” she asserts.
Being the national female superstar in the field has not made her too big for her boots, and she enthusiastically coaches our amateur group of women of all ages and levels. She says she likes to see girls enjoying the sport as a hobby and a way to keep fit, without the pressure and competitiveness of professional soccer. She tells me she enjoys giving tips and passing on what she has learned over the years.
Occasionally she needs to be reminded, though – when she cries in disbelief at a clumsily missed ball at a coaching session – “we aren’t all Silvi Jean!”