The Sophist Exclusive | Interview with Crystal Palace Ladies defender Jean Sseninde

First African player to join Common Goal, founder of the Jean Sseninde Foundation and Sseninde Women’s Development Cup while coaching the next generation in her home country, few have done as much for football as Jean Sseninde.

The Crystal Palace Ladies defender, who joined the East London club in September 2017,  revealed her hopes of promotion to the WSL 2 and is also working to develop the game in her native Uganda.

Crystal Palace Ladies defender Jean Sseninde.

Sseninde came from humble beginnings in East Africa, rising through the ranks with a Women’s team which paved the way for her to become a professional footballer in England.

“I was eight when I started playing football but wasn’t until school that I started playing competitively,” she revealed.

“I first played and signed for a club in Uganda called St. Marys Kitende Ladies team. We won district league competitions and it felt good knowing my football journey had started.”

The 25-year-old would go on to leave Kitende and come to England, joining Charlton Women after seeking counsel from then-Crested Cranes (Uganda national team) head coach Majida Nantanda.

Jean Sseninde, formerly of Queens Park Rangers.

Sseninde later played for London Phoenix Ladies and Queens Park Rangers before she made her move to Palace, and credits the Eagles for helping her develop.

The humanitarian admitted: “Playing at Palace has definitely changed my game a lot. I’ve learned so much. The environment is so professional and the girls in the reserve side and first-team are so talented.”

At the time of writing, Palace are currently third in the Southern Division and would need to finish top to reach the playoffs. Sseninde’s confident they can achieve such goals, saying: “I have a strong belief the team can do it and have the chance to the playoff spot. It will be great for the whole club.”

Currently in the reserve side, Sseninde says she’s competitive and never happy not playing, but strives to improve to make sure she’s earning her spot on merit.

“The worst moments are the times when I’m not in the starting lineup because I’m very competitive and always want to contribute in the team. But (such setbacks) push you to work hard and earn your spot.”

Getting to the WSL 2 with Palace would be a fantastic achievement, but representing Uganda on the international stage remains a career high moment for the philanthropist.

“Best moment of my career so far has been playing with the Uganda Women’s national team,” she said. “I provided the only assist to the goal that took us to the semi-final of the CECAFA Women’s Championships in 2016. It was a great moment as it was in front of our home crowd.”

Sseninde’s had an incredible career thus far, but she’s securing a legacy for her humanitarian work. The 25-year-old founded the Jean Sseninde Foundation and Sseninde Women’s Development Cup in Uganda, and explained how football has changed the life of so many for the better.

“With the Sseninde Foundation our aim is to empower women, men and children in the community through skills training, health and sports.

“We organise the Sseninde Women’s Development Cup yearly. It’s a tournament open for women regardless of their circumstances, giving them a chance to play football, for those who never had the opportunity before.”

“Girls have benefitted so much from this project. We have been spotted by schools and have been given bursaries so pupils and students can study for free while they play.

“Others have had opportunities to play for top clubs which has been such a blessing to us as a foundation. It’s also created leaders in the community and that’s what we aim for. We aim to continue growing and even doing bigger things for the communities.”

Sseninde joining Juan Mata’s Common Goal organisation further highlights how passionate she is to bring communities together with football, and her work thus far has been nothing short of incredible.

Thanks to Jean for speaking to The Sophist. We wish her all the best with her foundation and wish Crystal Palace Ladies luck in their playoffs bid this season.

Jean frequently blogs on her website can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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