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The term ‘role models’ is bandied about far too often in football and few can stake a credible claim to living up to it.
For Pernille Harder and Magdalena Eriksson, it fits perfectly. Initially by accident but now by design, the Chelsea duo are an inspiration, both for those have walked in their shoes and those who may want to but are not quite there yet.
Lauded as one of football’s ‘power couples’, Harder and Eriksson – who are representing Denmark and Sweden, respectively, at the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 tournament in England this summer – have been in a relationship since 2014 and have established themselves as icons on and off the pitch.
It is not a status either expected or strived for. ‘Neither me or Pernille had an objective to become gay role models,’ Eriksson told Forbes in an interview in 2020.
‘We were just quite open from the start when we started seeing each other. From then on, we’ve both had successful careers, we both became role models and well-known names. It just kind of happened.
Pernille Harder will lead Denmark’s frontline at the UEFA Women’s European Championship
Her partner, Magdalena Eriksson, has been named on Sweden’s squad for the tournament
‘It has been important for us not to hide something and just to be ourselves. To show people, that is how it should be. That’s how we want the world to be. We want people to be themselves and that’s how we want to be as well.’
Rarely has that attitude been as prominent as the 2019 World Cup in France, where the couple’s on-pitch kiss instantly became a hugely symbolic moment for the sport and the LGBT community.
Eriksson, whose Swedish side had knocked Harder’s Denmark out in qualifying for the tournament, sought out her partner – who was wearing a Swedish shirt – in the crowd after her team’s victory over Canada in the last 16 at the Parc des Princes.
The couple shared a kiss after Sweden had beaten Canada at the 2019 World Cup in France
It was an everyday occurrence for Harder and Eriksson but the image itself was the polar opposite. Two high-profile sportspeople showing their affection for each other on such a public stage is hardly commonplace.
The response was on outpouring of respect and affection, although Harder admits she did cop some criticism for being pictured in a Sweden shirt.
To say the image went viral was an understatement.
Both players saw their social media accounts sky-rocket in numbers and popularity, with Harder’s growing by 3,000 almost immediately.
It was then that they realised they were far more than footballers.
Harder and Eriksson both play for Chelsea in the Women’s Super League after the Dane moved to London in 2020
‘I didn’t know there was a photographer there, so I didn’t even know about the photo,’ Harder later said. ‘It was just a quick kiss after a match, like we’d done other times after other matches.
‘This time there was a camera and one thing led to another, the photo appeared on social media and there were loads of comments, the majority very positive.
‘It made us realise that we are role models, not just in football but in other ways.
‘It is something we have accepted because we know we are lucky to feel safe and relaxed being in a relationship which is public knowledge.
‘If we can help other people to be themselves, we want to do so.’
In the latest example of the famous pair embracing their profile, they released a short film entitled ‘Love Always Wins’ in March of this year.
Harder and Eriksson have been in a relationship since 2014 and continue to blaze a trail for the sport
This came after they opened up their direct messages to fans who were struggling to come out on Valentine’s Day. Harder and Eriksson, by their own admission, were inundated with responses – far more than they had anticipated.
The short video, in the words of Eriksson, ‘shows us just like any other couple, giving a snapshot of our everyday lives’.
Unveiled to coincide with international women’s day, the film includes powerful messages from both.
‘Everyone should be able to love who they want to love and not be judged about it,’ Harder says in one clip. ‘The future would be amazing if it could be just normal to be gay, that it is not a thing to come out, that you can just do it without people talking about it.’
Harder and Eriksson released a video entitled ‘Love Always Wins’ in March of this year
The film gave an insight into their daily lives and featured powerful messages from both players
The short video shows them ‘just like any other couple, giving a snapshot of our everyday lives’, in the words of Eriksson
Unfortunately, football – and indeed society as a whole – has not got that far, although Blackpool’s Jake Daniels becoming the first male professional footballer in the UK to come out is a step in the right direction.
‘You are brave and brilliant,’ Harder wrote in a quote Tweet on Blackpool’s post about their player.
‘Coming out will be freeing and liberating for you and for football fans around the world who will be inspired to open about their identity too. Huge respect. Wishing you all the very best.’
It is not just off the pitch where Harder and Eriksson have excelled – and there is a very reasonable chance one of them may be lifting the Women’s Euros trophy on July 31.
The competition is the first major tournament to feature both of them since the 2017 Euros, where Harder’s Denmark finished as runners-up.
Eriksson’s Sweden arrive as one of the favourites. They are ranked world No 2 by FIFA and won the silver medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
They could meet in the semi-finals in what would be their latest competitive game against each other, the last coming when Sweden beat Denmark to secure their place at the 2019 World Cup.
Having also been on opposing sides in the Champions League in 2018, when Harder was playing for Wolfsburg, they now line up together in the Women’s Super League following the Dane’s record £250,000 move to Stamford Bridge in 2020.
That transfer had come after they spent three-and-a-half years apart, with Harder in Germany and Eriksson in England. Chelsea is the first club they have played for at the same time since their days at Linköping, where they met and eventually fell in love.
Now, they are battling for major honours on the same team – and succeeding, with both coming into the Euros having won the league and cup double with Chelsea last term.
They continue to make a similarly significant impact away from football. The LGBT community could scarcely wish for better ambassadors.