In My Own Words: The A-Leagues Restructure Is Crucial For Football Down Under, Just Ask Someone Who Has Come Through The System
By Jamie Maclaren and Michelle Heyman
JM: If we go back to 2015 when the Matildas first took a stand and said that they wanted to be equal with the Socceroos, we stood there as the men's team and totally agreed. They really put their necks on the line and they deserved everything they were asking for. Six years on, if you look at the way women's football is going now, it's very exciting times. The A-Leagues is now coming into play and the women's World Cup is just a few years away - a competition where the Matildas always represent us so well. Even though we were the men's team, I remember those years well because we felt part of that. I think with the new A-Leagues, it'll be knowing as players - whether you're male or female - that no one is going to be cast aside and everyone will feel a part of it. The way that it has all worked out has been great - it has been a long time coming, if we're being honest. We're here now and we're all looking forward to building on a good and strong foundation.
MH: I love that we are one. We are finally equal as A-Leagues. It's really important to have men's and women's football under one banner to show exactly where we're going as a sport in this country. As the first code in Australia to do something like this, it's such a positive thing for football. For us women, it'll feel nice knowing that there's equality and support, but also that our game is going to grow massively too. It's sad to say, but women in sport are always the underdogs. We played because we loved it, never because of money. Now, though, the introduction of the new A-Leagues already seems more professional. And with the addition of a few new teams and the World Cup on the horizon, this restructure only bodes well for the future. We can now prove we're truly a footballing nation. Not only do we have a bunch of world class players playing in the A-Leagues, and have done for years now, but we've also got superstars on foreign soil tearing it up. You can't not mention Sam Kerr and what she has done for women's football in Australia. Yes, she's playing well overseas right now, but she started right here in Australia too. We want that for the next generation of kids - for them to become their role models.
JM: I'm a proud Melbourne boy. I grew up in Sunbury and every time I visit Sunbury United there's so many young females coming up and wanting to pick my brain about the pathways for women's football. The more people we have playing this game, the more we believe in ourselves as a footballing nation. I guarantee that all over Australia, not just in my hometown on Sunbury, that this game is played by so many people and everyone has a voice and an ambition now. So the way we've structured it is going to be fantastic for our game at all levels - the first time in Australia that a men's and women's competition have joined forces. It's world-leading, really. This is going to set a precedent and we'll undoubtedly see other countries and codes following suit.
MH: For the next generation of female footballers, this is now a career pathway. At the end of the day, we want to be full-time professional athletes. To have the World Cup here in Australia will be amazing, but having the support network of the A-Leagues will be what really provides for the next generation. We want the young talent to continue playing sport but also have a vision of being a professional athlete who can be successful both on and off the pitch too. The stability that the A-Leagues provides will only make our environment better while also helping produce more professionals. That's what we, as the players, want.
JM: I didn't have the luxury that kids do today with pathways to professional football teams here in Australia and that's why I went overseas at 15. But looking at this restructure of the A-Leagues, we now know there's buzzing academies and the clubs are willing to invest in youth football. We're now starting to pivot with head coaches looking over at young talent rather than recruiting older foreigners. But not just that, these coaches are willing to put their necks on the line for this younger crop of homegrown Australians - and for us to grow, that's what's needed. We do have good talent here and it's now just a case of building on that, so having a format like the A-Leagues in place is only going to enhance that growth. As a young Melbourne kid, I never had a system like this and I had to go overseas to get my apprenticeship and learn my craft. Now, things have changed. Look, I'm just very excited. Not just for myself and the current batch of players, but also for the new breed of youngsters coming through the ranks. It's an exciting time to be a footballer in Australia.
MH: In Australia, why can't we support just football as a whole? Why has it always got to be men's or women's? For the true fans, the ones that live and breathe the game, they know that the introduction of the A-Leagues is a great thing. From the production of talented homegrown players to the new look and feel on social media, we all understand that this is going to have a big impact on the game Down Under. For us women, centralising everything means we're now able to get ourselves out there in front of a bigger crowd. If you're comparing men's and women's social media accounts, there's a lot more following behind the men's. So to see them both morph into one hub will only be good for our profile too. Seeing us on the pitch is great, but we also want to tell our unique stories away from football too and this is a great way to do that. I'm very excited and everyone else should be too.
JM: With the new A-Leagues bringing both men's and women's football fans together on social media, I think it's great for the game. The last thing you want, in anything, is separation between two fan bases who ultimately love the same thing. The idea of a centralised social media account is brilliant, whereby both set of fans are funnelled into one place. The centralized hub is one thing, but speaking more broadly, you could even have stadiums which play the women's game before the men's on a Saturday and vice versa. How good would that be? Watching two games in one afternoon is something I think we'll eventually get to, but it just proves that the possibilities are endless. Less is more, it's that simple. For the men and women, we all play football. We all play under the same rules. It's the same game.
Featured Image Credit: A-Leagues/PA
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