The Cambodian capital’s top football club, Phnom Penh Crown, has just hired a female physiotherapist. Andy Brouwer talks with the ground-breaking Lidwina Niewold.

Nowadays, for mega football clubs such as Chelsea its almost common practice to employ female medical staff, but for a team in the Cambodian Football League it’s unheard of. So what’s the story behind Phnom Penh Crown’s mould-breaking female physio, Lidwina Niewold?

A twin, with four brothers and a sister, Niewold grew up in Brummen, Holland, where football was popular for girls. This enabled her to play regularly and to help train a girl’s team for a couple of years.

“I come from a football-playing family and played as soon as I could,” she says. “But I suffered an injury when I was 20 and didn’t get it treated properly. So I know from my own experience how important it is to make sure players get the best possible treatment.”

Niewold studied physiotheraphy in Utrecht for four years including an internship in Indonesia for six months. “That was an amazing experience,” she says. “I worked in a hospital and then a small health care center in the countryside, and with disabled children.”

She came to Cambodia in November 2011 to work with Dick van der Poel at the Physiotherapy Phnom Penh Clinic. Early on she treated one of the Crown Academy boys and things kicked off from there. She attended a few Academy games, took over the rehabilitation of one of the players, Kouch Sokumpheak and was then invited by head coach Sam Schweingruber, to get involved with the senior team.

“I’m addicted to football, I love it,” she says. “The fact that I can be involved on the pitch and use my physio skills at the same time is like living my childhood dream.”

Not that living the dream is all play, as Niewold is serious about her work.

“I’m trying to make the players conscious about their body, and what to avoid,” she says. “I can treat them with manual physiotheraphy, massage, medical taping or exercising. My goal is to get them back as soon as possible but without risk of more damage.”

She cites Sokumpheak as a good example of her success. “He is coming back from a serious knee injury,” she says. “Step by step he’s been doing more exercises to strengthen his muscle, coordination and stability. The aim is to get him back playing matches but also to avoid further injury.”

From personal experience Niewold is only too aware of what can happen if injuries are not treated correctly.

“I am my own worst example,” she says referring to the injury she received when 20. “I twisted my ankle and damaged my ligaments. Because I couldn’t wait to play again, I didn’t get enough rest, I didn’t do my strengthening exercises properly and it took me a really long time to recover. Now I realise how stupid I was, I just wanted to play and failed to take good care of my ankle. My job now is to make sure that doesn’t happen to the Crown players, and of course, to my clients at the clinic.”

Niewold’s appointment is just one of many examples of the way that Phnom Penh Crown is prepared to try something different. Crown has a recent history of Croatian, English and Swiss coaches, a British press officer, the country’s first-ever youth academy, its own artificial training facility, a fan and community engagement agenda and now its own foreign female physio.

Although Niewold is aware of the gender boundaries within the beautiful game, she is not going to let that stop her following her rainbow.

“Football is and will always be a man’s world,” she says. “But nothing is impossible if you have a dream and you follow that dream.”