Hanna Glas started playing soccer at five years old in the small town in Sweden she grew up in, four hours north of Stockholm. She played because her older brother did, and she always wanted to copy him.
Excitedly, they’d rush out to the small patch of grass by their house, kicking the ball around until they got tired. But Glas could never have dreamed of playing professionally.
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“It wasn’t even a dream I thought I could have,” she said.
For a start, there were few female athletes or idols to look up to in the early 2000s, as she told the Guardian. But more than that, women’s soccer wasn’t even visually accessible: “You couldn’t watch most of their matches on television.”
Earlier this year, at 29 years old, Glas was signed by the Kansas City Current, transferring from Bayern Munich across the Atlantic. Professionally, it was a big move; she’d be playing for a National Women’s Soccer League team in the US and could continue rehab for the severe knee injury she’d suffered the year before.
But moving to Kansas City meant more than just taking a different direction in her already flourishing career. Next year, the team will play in a new stadium, which claims to be the first ever purpose-built exclusively for a professional women’s sports team.
“I’m so excited and nervous at the same time,” Glas said. “To have a fully packed stadium, just there to watch us, will be so cool.”
Beginning in the spring of 2024, just in time for their fourth season in the NWSL, KC Current will train and play matches in this new $120m facility. Located at the Berkley Riverfront Park, in the heart of downtown Kansas City, the stadium looks out onto the tranquil waters of the Missouri River. It boasts two grass pitches, Fifa-approved turf layering and rooms tailored to recovery, wellness and weight training. The squad will even have a high-performance chef on site.
Through the open corner layout, buildings across the city’s skyline silhouette across the stands, which can seat 11,500 people for the opening. This could possibly extend to 22,000.
For players and fans alike, this facility is a significant step up. Currently, the team plays at Children’s Mercy Park, a stadium further west of the city, near the speedway, that they share with Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City. Before that, it was a baseball field.
“Finally, people are going to be scheduling around us,” said Katrina Hawkins, a longtime fan and president of the KC Blue Crew, the Current’s official supporters’ group.
“When I first saw the new stadium, I was blown away. At long last, there’s a place for us that we can come to,” Hawkins added.
Growing up playing soccer, having a local women’s team that she could support was essential for Hawkins. In the early 80s and 90s, she and her friends recognized that there wasn’t really a professional route to go down if they wanted to continue with the sport unless they moved to Sweden or Japan. The focus pivoted instead to getting a scholarship to get her through college. At least that way, she knew she could continue playing in some capacity.
When she moved to Kansas City 17 years ago, Hawkins remembers being blown away there was a team in the area. She went to an end-of-season match alone and came home, enthused, and spoke to her husband.
“I’m all-in,” she said, laughing as she remembered.
“Season tickets, supporters groups, and all of that. I’m 100%, totally all-in from now.”
And she’s stayed true to her word, remaining a consistent supporter of KC Current since the team began, and even before that, when they had a different name and were an entirely different club. What she’s happiest about with the new stadium, though, is that the suggestions of the fan community were valued and respected from the outset of its construction.
“They reached out to us and asked us for do’s and don’ts,” Katrina said. “We are big advocates for accessibility, and they asked us all for our opinions.”
For example, safe standing was a feature many of the fans disapproved of in the early design stages; the seats can be uncomfortable, and they didn’t want people to be discouraged from attending games.
The planning committee listened, and bleachers were installed in the support section instead. Now, years on, they are putting the final stages of the pitch together.
Funding for a project of this scale was made possible, in part, by the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his wife, Brittany, both co-owners of the team. The Mahomeses have poured financial resources into the club, joining a growing list of celebrities, including Angel City FC’s Natalie Portman, Jennifer Garner and Jessica Chastain, who are investing in women’s football and turning a spotlight on the NWSL.
So, in March, the Kansas City Current stadium will launch and stand as a unique monument to women’s soccer and an enduring tribute to how far this sport has come.