On Saturday afternoon, Sara Nilsson scored the two goals that gave Florentia San Gimignano a 2-1 win at Hellas Verona after going behind in the second-half.
These were Nilsson’s first two goals of the campaign, in what is her first full season in Italian football.
Welcome to Italy
Nilsson arrived at Florentia San Gimignano in January of last year. Before the season was cut short, the Swedish forward still managed to play in five games for her new club. In those five league and Coppa Italia games, she scored three goals.
It was a tough welcome to Serie A football when Nilsson came on as a sub away to Fiorentina. At that stage, early in the second half, her side were down 5-0 and would go on to lose 6-1. A week later, she would be in the starting line-up, and have her first game in front of her new fans.
Those fans are something both Nilsson and her teammates really miss these days.
Speaking exclusively to Her Football Hub, she said: “We have a very special connection to our fans. Now, unfortunately, they are not allowed inside the stadium, which of course is sad. However, they still do their best in supporting us by standing behind the fence.
I hope that they will soon be allowed in the stands so we can celebrate together! Until then, the best we can do is to play good games and bring the points home for them.”
Florentia San Gimignano’s story is like a fairytale that came to life. The club was only founded back in 2015. A reality born of a dream by club president Tommaso Becagli and a couple of friends. After three successive promotions, they found themselves in the top flight of Italian football. Not bad for a club now based in a medieval town with a population of less than 8,000 people.
Coming from a village herself, Snisse, as she was called in Sweden, has settled into life in the small Tuscan town of San Gimignano.
“I would describe it as a very authentic Italian experience. The locals are warm and welcoming which makes it a very calm and safe place to be. Everyone knows everyone here, and you feel very close to the people that are coming to see the games. The beautiful Tuscany landscape allows me to focus and refresh my mind.”
Barefoot on the grass
Back home on the quiet streets of her hometown was where Nilsson first started playing football and honing her skills.
“Me and my brother played barefoot on the grass a lot with my neighbours on my street back home (shoutout to Sågvägen!) during the summers, and I often got to join the older kids.
I remember that I always got so lost in the moment being around a ball, time just kind of disappeared! I started in a mixed team when I was about five years old and with a girls team at eight.”
Although very much in love with the game, it wouldn’t be until much later when she thought about the possibilities of a career in football.
“I didn’t grow up in an elite environment or close to any big club, my first contract came when I was 19 and signed with Jitex BK. It was not until one year ago that I decided to commit 100 percent to football, so I am definitely what you could call a late bloomer”.
Having a family with a background in the game meant that Nilsson had plenty of support at home.
“My family has always supported me, even all the way to my grandparents. My grandma Anita was playing as a goalkeeper in the first year that Damallsvenskan was founded in Sweden, that was back in 1968. I am very fortunate to have a family that shares my passion in this way.”
Despite arriving late to the game, Nilsson always had ambitions of playing further afield.
“My dream was to play football in another country and get to know other cultures. When I got an offer from Florentia, I saw the opportunity to develop on the field and on a personal level. I see a lot of potential in Italian football as it is growing and moving in the right direction towards professionalism.”Embed from Getty Images
Nilsson has been impressed with the quality of players on display in Serie A.
“There are a lot of players that impress me here, especially since almost the whole Italian national team are still playing in Serie A.
The players that took part in the World Cup of 2019 made a historical mark and pushed the whole development of the league forward so I really think they have earned respect. There are also a lot of young talented players in the league.”
However, despite facing top defenders every week in Serie A, it’s closer to home where she has her toughest task.
“I have to play against Tamar Dongus in every training session, which is not easy. She is one of the best central defenders I have played with.”
One of Nilsson’s favourite moments in her football career to date came shortly after her arrival at Florentia. A scoreless draw at home is not what we might expect to hear as a player’s highlight, but as she explains, there is something special about playing in San Gimignano.
“One of my strongest football memories took place one year ago before we played against Juventus. Just walking into the stadium of Santa Lucia, hearing all the fans, including my mum that had come to visit me from Sweden. In that moment I felt like I was almost in a movie and I just knew it was going to be a great game. I think I will never forget this feeling!”
The future in football tends to be uncertain, so for now Nilsson is concentrating on this current season.
“My contract is expiring with Florentia after this season, and I don’t know what the future holds just yet. Right now, I just want to focus on trying to perform at a high level with the team.”
To those of you yet to give Serie A football a chance, Nilsson has these words of advice.
“I would say that by watching Italian football you get to experience true and genuine passion. Its filled with emotion and the results are not always easy to predict which makes it fun to watch.”
With Nilsson finally on the scoresheet this season, we should be seeing plenty more from her with Florentia in the games to come. Hopefully next season too.
And if you haven’t yet found a team to support in Serie A, then Florentia San Gimignano could be the club for you. The underdogs battle against major clubs such as Juventus, AC Milan, Roma and near neighbours Fiorentina, all while still holding a special place in the hearts of the local community.
A big thank you to both Sara Nilsson and Florentia San Gimignano for this interview. Grazie mille.