In XI issue two, Bob Kellett interviews Mary Harvey, an American who broke barriers overseas both as a player and as a FIFA administrator. Read the extract below or subscribe now to receive this and 10 other stories on Americans abroad in XI issue two.
In November 1991, the United States Women’s National Team won the inaugural FIFA Women’s World Cup, held in China. In goal was a native of Palo Alto, California — Mary Harvey. Her route to this position was — even by the standards of a nascent women’s game with very little formal structure above the college level — unusual. Harvey was a business professional working in Germany who fell back into a playing career there and earned selection to the American national team. Even after retirement, Harvey trod an unconventional path, becoming the first American and first female to take-up a director-level position at FIFA. Harvey, who is now based in Portland, Oregon, spoke with Bob Kellett about her pathbreaking career.
XI QUARTERLY: You had a great career at Cal and then it was time to graduate in 1986. What options did you have to continue playing soccer at that time?
MARY HARVEY: Adult club soccer. I was one of five kids so my dad said, “Ok, you are going to work.” I went to the undergraduate business school at Cal and I interviewed and accepted a position with a company now called Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting). There was a national team and I wasn’t part of the picture for it. I understood that and I picked the latest possible start date with Accenture so I could play club soccer for as long as possible and say goodbye to something I loved. With the travel and work schedule at Accenture, I knew playing club soccer was going to be really hard. I was 22 years old and in my physical prime. Bullets were bouncing off me physically, yet I knew I was done.
About six weeks into corporate training, I was told there was a project in Germany and they were looking for volunteers for an extended assignment that would last for two to four years. My father is German and there was German spoken in the house, although I didn’t speak it myself. There was a lot of appeal. So I raised my hand. I thought it would be good to get away from the soccer situation here, because I missed it. I was so naïve to think I could get away from soccer. Look at where I was going!
XI: So you were going to Germany to start your next phase in life, a phase without soccer, and lo and behold you discovered an opportunity to play there.
MH: After about eight weeks there, I went to the local team (FSV Frankfurt) and tried out. They had no idea who I was. They saw an American woman and assumed I didn’t know what I was doing. I tried out and made it. I started playing there and it was a good team. We ended up playing in the cup final in front of 76,000 people in the Berlin Olympiastadion in 1990. During this time, I remained in contact with the U.S. national team coach [Anson Dorrance] and let him know that I was still playing. I had nothing to lose, right? Here I thought I was done playing, yet I was in an environment where I was training with a team four times a week, playing a game or two a week, and playing with players that were very different. These were players who had been doing this ten months a year since the time they were 16 years old. It was very different than what I was used to. So in 1989 when an injury to the U.S. national team keeper finally led to a tryout, I did very well because I had been playing in a very competitive environment.
XI: You played in front of 76,000 people? Even at that time I wouldn’t have imagined that in Germany. What was the scene like? Were you paid?
MH: There is a major qualifier with that number. We played the cup final before the men’s final so there weren’t 76,000 there at the start, that’s for sure. But the game was televised live all over Germany. I wasn’t paid to play, but they did have things that were different than what I was used to. I was paid gas money. Someone else cleaned the uniforms. There were bonuses paid to the team pool if we won a game or someone scored a goal. There were individual fines for being late, red cards and yellow cards for yapping, and for losing the soccer ball they gave you. I had never had fines before. There were all sorts of things that were new. The amount of work that I had to do was to show up. I didn’t have to organize anything and I didn’t have to put up the nets. I just had to show up and play.
XI: That’s probably a good thing since at the time you were still a consultant.
MH: I was working 80-90 hour work weeks. I worked and played, and in between I kind of ate and slept a little bit. But I loved every minute of it and wouldn’t trade those years for anything.