Genoveva Anonma was used to the insults. For years, she had shrugged off the suspicions, ignored the accusations.
But what she was not prepared for was the degrading ordeal that followed her starring performance for Equatorial Guinea in the 2008 African Women’s Championship.
Scorer of the winning goal on home soil as her country became the first team other than Nigeria to win the tournament, Anonma should have been savouring the realisation of a dream. Instead she was plunged into a personal nightmare.
As her energetic and powerful performances prompted rival teams to accuse her of being a man, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) chose the crudest of methods to establish Anonma’s gender.
“They asked me to take all my clothes off in front of officials from CAF and the Equatorial Guinea team,” she recalls.
“I was really upset, my morale was low and I was crying. It was totally humiliating, but over time I have got over it.”
Overcoming adversity was nothing new to this most resilient of individuals.
Growing up in Equatorial Guinea – where the 2015 men’s Africa Cup of Nations kicks off on Saturday – her desire to become a footballer made her an outcast at school, and indeed at home.
“When I was five years old in my village the girls didn’t accept me because I just wanted to play football, so I always used to play with the boys,” says Anonma.
“My dad was living in another city with another woman and my mum didn’t want me to have anything to do with football. She wanted me to study for a Masters, become a teacher, or help children.
“I had some serious problems with her. She told me she didn’t want to see me again.
“Eventually, I went to live with my uncle. He took me to the city so I could carry on studying and playing football.”
Anonma was signed by her local team in the capital city, Malabo, when she was 15 in 2002. After a year in South Africa with Mamelodi Sundowns, she joined FC Jena in the German Bundesliga, where she was the team’s top scorer for two seasons in a row.
However, after Equatorial Guinea’s run to the final of the 2010 African Championship they booked their place at the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and she became embroiled in an all-too-familiar scandal.
Winners Nigeria, along with South Africa and Ghana, accused Guinea of having three men in their team: sisters Salimata and Bilguisa Simpore, as well as the team’s captain, Anonma.
“You only need to have physical contact with them on the pitch to know this [that they are men],” said Ghana defender Diana Amkomah at the time.
As the story made headlines around the world, Anonma faced up to the media to refute the allegations.
“These accusations come because I am fast and strong, but I know that I am definitely a woman,” she said at the time.
As the row rumbled on into the build-up to the World Cup, Equatorial Guinea sought to defuse the controversy by dropping the Simpore sisters from their squad, although it was never stated that their omission related to gender. And the allegations were never proven.
Anonma, meanwhile, kept her place and scored Equatorial Guinea’s only two goals at the tournament.
To this day, Anonma’s biggest frustration remains that she has never been permitted to undergo medical gender testing in the expectation of silencing her doubters once and for all.
“I was hoping they would call me to tell me they were taking me to hospital to do tests, but they never did,” she says.
“They did nothing to me. It was just down to me alone to defend myself, to state that I am not a man, I am a woman.”
A woman good enough to be named African Women’s Footballer of the Year after her goals inspired Equatorial Guinea to their second African Championship in 2012.
And a woman good enough to line up in Germany for Turbine Potsdam, the six-time Bundesliga champions and two-time winners of the European Champions League.
“I think Germany is the best league in Europe,” she says. “There are lots of internationals and big-game players.
“But on a personal level, it’s not easy when you don’t speak German very well. You can’t have many friends or talk to people well.”
If Anonma hints at homesickness, she is not yet ready to return to Equatorial Guinea, where she is feted as a hero whenever she walks the streets.
Instead, she’s weighing up offers to play in France or Sweden, two other established hubs for women’s football.
Despite the tribulations of her turbulent career, Anonma remains a player at the summit of her powers.
Source: BBC Sport