A look at how Wallan has prepared for its inaugural season in the NFNL Women’s football competition.
If you walked into the Wallan clubrooms at Greenhill Reserve before the debut senior women’s practice match, it’s not obvious that most of the women in this room had never touched a football before pre-season training.
Handball drills, strapping and stretching are all happening simultaneously around the room – giving the illusion of a team filled with experienced players.
But under this façade this newly established senior women’s team is a perfect representation of a number of women’s sides in the NFNL Women’s competition – filled with players of not only varying degrees of skill and experience but also age.
The Magpies roster has players ranging across various age brackets, with varying degrees of experience, including having never played a game until the practice match.
Annemarie Barbieri, 48, is one of these players. “I’ve wanted to play all my life but when I was younger it wasn’t really acceptable for girls to play football,” Barbieri said.
“It was more a netball [and] basketball type thing and when I saw this advertised I thought, even though I’m pretty old, I wanted to it a go.”
Barbieri isn’t alone in this inexperience.
Coach Danny Parry estimates that around three-quarters of the players have never played football before. “Probably out of the 26 on the roster we’ve got maybe eight that have played footy before,” he said.
One of the reasons for this new surge of inexperienced players of all ages is the new opportunities and access being created by the formation of these senior sides, as well as other women’s teams throughout the NFNL competition.
Barbieri said she had never had access to these football opportunities until now and she loves having that opportunity to play.
“I decided I have to do it now or I’ll never do it so here I am,” she said.
The growth of these sorts of clubs is also exciting Barbieri said.
“It gives girls like me who never had the opportunity, and young kids too, to play what they want to play,” she said.
“There’s no stigma involved in playing whatever you want to play now.
“Girls can play and do whatever they want to do which is great…great for young kids and great for older girls like me who always wanted to play.”
Lauren McPherson, 33, is another who has begun her first season of football four months after giving birth.
“I’ve always wanted to play but never had a local team that played and I moved [to Wallan] recently,” she said. “Women’s footy has been around for a while and I never got the opportunity.”
But it’s not just the new and inexperienced players who reap the benefits of the establishment of these new teams.
Captain Jamie Otene, 20, has played football for a number of seasons and has always been a member of these “start-up” teams, an experience that had almost made her quit football.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to come back to the club this year because I’m sick of being the startup team,” Otene said. “Every time I play footy I’m the startup team but you see girls like Toni who plays in the younger years and she’s amazing.”
“Having a women’s team now and doing this now for her, when she’s our age it’ll be easier for her to do it [and] it’ll be easier for her to come and play.
“Everything’s all about building the other girls up.”
The varying level of experience the Magpies have is a challenge many female team will have and managing the vast differences in skill is a challenge coaches have to manage during training and matches.
Parry, a seasoned coach with six years of coaching women’s football and establishing a number of senior women’s team, has managed to find a way to train teams with a wide-range of skills.
“The biggest challenge is if you’ve got women who’ve played a lot of footy, some of the drills can be very boring for them,” Parry said.
“As long as they can understand until the level of skills grow, that’s when we [can] start doing all the fancy drills.
“Before that you’ve got to keep it simple, teach them how to kick the ball, mark the ball [and] handball the ball.”
In the lead up a recent practice match against Hurstbridge, also a new side the NFNL Women’s competition in 2019, the Magpies’ nerves and excitement were high.
For the majority of the team this was the first time they’d ever experienced a football match, for some a contact sport and for a few their first time playing in a team.
McPherson said she was “extremely nervous” but excited in the lead up to the game.
“It’s more about the fitness,” she said.
“I don’t care about the physicality but yeah, I’m looking forward to getting out with the girls.”
Otene, going through her fair share of first games with brand new teams and players, was excited for the game.
“I feel like this team bonds really well together…and I’m really excited to see some real good talent come out today so it’s exciting,” she said.
Although nerves were high among the players, it was possible Parry’s were highest. Being only his fourth week with the team, Parry was still in the process of figuring out player positions for the first time he would ever see the girls play.
“I’m probably underneath the pump a little bit but the girls have made me feel so welcome, that’ll come in time.”
“I probably feel more nervous than the girls because I think about it probably the whole week,” he said.
The Magpies’ hard-work over the pre-season was on display, culminating in a solid win over Hurstbridge, with the first goal being scored by McPherson in her debut game.
The Magpies head into their first official game on Sunday when they take on fellow newcomer Reservoir at Crispe Park from at 2:30pm.
Photos supplied by Michelle Gussenhoven