Ahead of the 2021/22 season’s big kick-off tomorrow, Impetus’ Ben Gilby heard from eight of the competition’ ten clubs and a total of 17 players and eight head coaches as the season launch media events were held.
SYDNEY FC: Named Australasia’s Best Female Sporting Team
Sydney FC’s women’s team were named Australasia’s best for 2021 on Tuesday by Platinum Asset Management, together with GAIN LINE Analytics after the presentation of their yearly analysis.
The outcome saw Sydney’s women’s team come fifth out of almost 200 professional teams and is a reward for them making four out of the past five Grand Finals, winning one Championship and one Premiership, in an outstanding period for the club. Sydney FC’s men’s team finished top of the list, completing a special double for the Harbour City club.
Chief Executive Officer Danny Townsend has previously gone on the record citing a “vision to be the best sporting team in the country of any code” and this award recognises that.
In winning the award, Townsend said: “To have the highest rated men’s and women’s teams of all codes in Australia and New Zealand is a huge achievement.
“Over the last five years our Men’s and Women’s teams have competed in eight out of ten Grand Finals and it is this consistency that has delivered this accolade. It is an outstanding achievement to celebrate and we will look to challenge for the title again next year.”
Sky Blues A-League Women’s Head Coach Ante Juric has been in charge for the past five years. “All of the recognition should go to our players and staff, as well as the club for their great support.
“We have had a policy of believing in and promoting our excellent young Australian female players and it has paid off.
“It was fantastic to win last season’s Premiership and go so close in the Grand Final, we look forward to going one better this year.”
Sydney’s A-League Women defender spoke of her pride in the announcement of the reward: “It’s a huge credit to the club, and shows the real family like culture that we have. We have to credit the board for always supporting the A-League Women’s team.
“We have such a great future ahead and to have the men’s team beside us supporting us as well is great. To be recognised as the best women’s team across all sports is incredible.”
Sydney FC have nominated the Sydney FC Foundation to receive a $10,000 grant from Platinum, in recognition of their success.
The Sydney FC Foundation seeks to enrich the lives of young people through the power of football and education. The grant will specifically go towards the Foundation’s community pillar and support the Sydney FC Powerchair football team.
Powerchair football is a modified version of football for people with physical disabilities and utilizing electric wheelchairs.
LIBERTY ANNOUNCED AS A-LEAGUE WOMEN SPONSORS:
The A-Leagues announced on Wednesday that non-bank lender Liberty, has become the first-ever naming rights partner of the newly rebranded A-League Women’s competition for the 2021-22 season, which kicks off tomorrow.
The multi-year deal, commencing today includes naming rights partnership of the A-League Women’s competition, Final Series, and the Official Lending Partner of the A-Leagues. Liberty will also be an official Partner of the Isuzu UTE A League, A-League Youth and A-League eSports,
The investment also marks a milestone in women’s professional football, with interest in the game increasing in the lead up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 to be held in Australia and New Zealand.
Announcing the partnership, A-Leagues Managing Director Danny Townsend stated, “The A-Leagues is proud and excited to welcome Liberty as a new naming rights partner. The team shares our passion for football, for diversity, and for empowering women to pursue their dreams.
“We have seen a significantly expanding interest in women’s football – from grassroots through to the Matildas. By investing in women’s professional football through Liberty A-League, we offer more pathways for emerging players, ensuring our world-class competition is truly sustainable”.
And Liberty is delighted to further its support and involvement in Australian sport.
“Through the Liberty A-League we reaffirm our support for women in professional sport,” said Liberty CEO, James Boyle. “We are passionate about helping to provide the platform that women’s football deserves.”
Liberty’s investment in the women’s competition is the latest milestone in the A-Leagues’ ambitious growth and commercial development strategy.
“This is an exciting and important moment for the game of football in Australia and for the growth of the women’s game in particular. At A-Leagues we want to see equality and equity across football, including fair access to facilities, coaching, pathways into the game, as well as equal coverage. We know this is a work in progress, but the partnership with Liberty is a great step on the journey,” said Ant Hearne, Chief Commercial Officer.
In another milestone, from Friday 3 December, the A-Leagues will unify its Facebook and Instagram channels, reinforcing its commitment to providing the best football fan experience, across all Leagues.
MELBOURNE CITY: Late Capture of Young Star Heatley:
Melbourne City FC announced the signing of defender Winonah Heatley on Monday ahead of the new A-League Women season.
The 20-year-old joins City from Vaxjo DFF in Sweden’s Damallsvenkan – the top flight of the game. Heatley has made 16 A-League Women since debuting for Brisbane Roar in 2020 and started every match for the Queenslanders last season.
A versatile defender capable of playing both centrally and as a full-back, she was called into the Matildas squad for the first time in September this year ahead of the national team’s friendly against the Republic of Ireland.
Her addition to Rado Vidosic’s squad will ensure that there is plenty of competition for spots in defence ahead of City’s A-League Women season opener against Canberra United on December 3.
Speaking about her move to Victoria, Heatley said: “I’ve always admired City for their style of play and for the professionalism that’s ingrained in the Club, so I’m very excited to now be a part of it.
“I remember coming here to visit my extended family as a kid and going to a doubleheader at AAMI Park. It was the first time I had watched a women’s match live and it was the first time I could really imagine myself playing out under those lights. It was pretty special, and it just feels right to finally be able to play for this Club.
“I’ve always heard a lot of good things about the way City is run and the unity between both the Men’s and Women’s teams. I think that City is a Club that provides player support, resources, and facilities at a level that the other A-Leagues clubs aspire to.”
Head Coach Rado Vidosic was delighted to capture Heatley. “We’re very excited to welcome Wini to Melbourne and are looking forward to seeing the impact she can have on the pitch for us.
“Her versatility across defence will be a big asset for us this season and provides our squad with plenty of depth.
“She’s been impressive in training so far and despite being the fact she is just 20-years-old, she already has plenty of experience both here in the A-League Women, as well as overseas and as part of the Matildas set-up.”
Emma Checker & Leah Davidson Media Conference:
Ahead of Melbourne City’s first A-League Women game of the season, the two defenders spoke to the media.
“We can’t wait to kick off!” exclaimed Checker, “You always start pre-season thinking that you have a long time to go, but it’s almost time to go. We’ve had at least a month together now and I’ve never had that long before in this competition.
“Our sport is growing, the fact that we have Liberty (new A-League Women title sponsors) onboard is massive. We are attracting big companies and we are showcasing something special this year.”
Checker was questioned directly on City’s opening game at Canberra United. “It’s a tough start, they have some of the best fans in the league. If you are in the Canberra United team it’s amazing, if you’re against them it’s difficult, but it’s a challenge that we need to rise to.”
After their tough time last time, Melbourne City are almost universally expected to be a serious contender in Finals football this season, something the 25-year-old centre-back agrees with. “Look, I can’t stop raving about the girls this year, it’s really easy for me to speak highly of our team this year as I think we’ve got the perfect puzzle (put together). It’s thanks to the club and Rado (Vidosic, head coach) for putting in some serious groundwork.
“We know that last season didn’t go to plan and there’s a lot that we’ve had to rebuild from. We’ve got a good mix of experience and young talent so we are in a good position to get to where we set our bar.”
“We have depth now and people have to fight for their spots in every position. No one can be complacent and there are no easy decisions for the coaches every week now.
“We are in a good place to redeem ourselves for last season and I think we can go all the way. On a personal level, I want to make sure we concede as few goals as possible.”
Davidson spoke of her own personal aims for the campaign: “I hope I can take a lead from my season last year and build on that so we can succeed a lot more.”
She also identified the benefits of having a long pre-season together. “I feel we have really gelled as a team already. Everyone is able to work hard for each other on and off the field so that means it will be a great season.
“I think we really have the potential to do well. I want us to make semi-finals, final and see what we can do. Personally, I want to cement a starting position and play as well as I can.”
Rado Vidisic’s View:
Melbourne City head coach Rado Vidisic met with the media on Thursday ahead of the club’s opening A-League Women game with Canberra United.
“This has been my longest pre-season and I’ve been here four years now. We’ve had 95% of our players in training for five and a half weeks. It was good because they had been in a lockdown. I do feel though that, because players haven’t had many games because of lockdown, we are about three weeks short of where we need to be.
“In terms of pre-season games, we were only able to have a game against our academy kids. We originally organised games with Melbourne Victory, and got one in the end. We are probably two or three preparation games short.”
Vidosic confirmed that goalkeeper Sally James would be out until January with a broken thumb. “She had a freak accident when a ball was hit hard into her and she broke her thumb. She had surgery and is starting to train again. She is young, she will recover and will then be integrated into our squad.”
This means that 41-year-old Melissa Barbieri will start the season in goal, as the City head coach explained: “Melissa Barbieri was very happy when Sally got injured! Coco Majstorovic has also come in from Brisbane for us as an injury replacement.”
In terms of his wider squad, Vidisic was optimistic. “It is a similar squad to two years ago (when City won the Grand Final), we two very good number tens, we have good sixes, we have good defenders.
On the subject of defenders, the Melbourne City head coach went into detail about Emma Checker. “This is a big season for her. Two years ago she was the rock of our defence. Last season she had a tough experience in France and a stress fracture and she was always going to find it hard. Now we have the real Emma Checker back. I hope the national team take notice. She is second to none. Having someone like her around is so important.”
Vidisic identified one of the difficulties he has with the A-League Women as a competition. “At the end of the season, a lot of our players go overseas. Are they ready for the overseas experience? Is it worthwhile for them? Can we keep them here with a longer season? Is it right to go overseas when you are 19 or 20? Quite a few of them are not getting much game time overseas. At the moment the only other option is to play NPL here and the standard is down, so we need to look at that.”
Heyman and Linton With The Media At Season Launch:
Speaking to the media about how she discovered she would be captain for 2021/22, Michelle Heyman said: “Being captain is super important, this club is super important. Vicki (Linton) took me on a coffee date and it was quite sweet! I think five years ago it would maybe be too much, but not now.
“I like to lead without speaking. This year I just want to run around, kick some goals and have a smile on my face. We’re in a really good place as a team.”
“Pre-season was about hurting yourself as much as possible so you are ready for Round One. My philosophy has changed. Five years ago I had the Matildas knocking on my door telling me how to play. Now I can play the way that makes me happy, it drops pressure. I just want to go out wanting to enjoy playing and score.
“I do what I do for the crowd. Me walking out with the armband is for them. I’m going out to win the league this year. Go high or go home is what I think. We are ingraining this in the team. It’s fun making Finals, but what is the point if you don’t win?”
With Melbourne City first up for the capital city side, there’s a real chance to make a statement. “Every player wants to play for them. They are very professional. They have lots of cash! Beating the best is what is about. I can seeing it being a fun game! Having Ash Sykes back alongside me, it’s like she’s never been away.
“Things are falling to our feet. It’s coming naturally. I’m pumped. I called my Mum to tell her Ash was back and she was excited too! The old legends are back!”
Speaking about her choice of Michelle Heyman as captain, head coach Vicki Linton said: “It was the natural choice. We have a lot of players with leadership qualities, but I’m really proud of her. It’s just about her being her.
“It was an easy conversation over coffee, like ‘I know you don’t want this, but…’ but it was easy. I don’t necessarily want her to speak out more. Michelle will speak when she needs to. What she brings is strong. There is no issue in how she does that.
“One of the best things she brings is her positivity. She always has a smile. She drives players at training. She sets standards. She drives the team in games. She cares about the team and club. She often talks about how we can be better as a team to me.”
Talking about the squad for this campaign, Linton observed: “We’ve had a lot of new faces coming in, but we are in a very good place. We played TSP (Talent Support Program) Boys in a trial match. A couple of games were played in torrential rain and on soggy, dead fields. We’re ready!”
Whilst Heyman has the armband, Linton recognises that there is a big leadership group in her squad. “We have core players – those who have been here for a few years and senior players, those with wide experience. Ash Sykes adds to that now. She is driven and competitive. We are looking to win the league. Ash has that experience and mentality and is bringing that edge to the group.”
In terms of how she sees the opener going with Melbourne City, Linton feels it will be a tough battle. “They are a lot stronger than last season. It’s tricky. I think if we execute, we should be able to win the game. We’re grateful for a first game at home. We are looking at the first block until Christmas – home, away, away, home. This first block is vital as it is a short season.
“Having said that, it would not be a disaster if we didn’t win the openers. Brisbane didn’t win for a fair while last year and they had a great season, so we’ll see!”
Shadeene Evans & Isabel Hodgson At Media Season Launch:
Adelaide United’s new attacking star Shadeene Evans told the gathered media at Coopers Stadium that she is “so excited to be part of this A-League Women’s season and with this team. I’m hoping to have a good season and for us to finish top four, top five.”
“It is one of my dreams to play for the Matildas and there are opportunities coming up. All the young girls want to be part of that. Hopefully one day I will be part of that.”
For Evans and her team-mates first though is a tough opener against many people’s Grand Final favourites Melbourne Victory.
“I think we’re ready for them, we want to go there and get a win. Pre-season has been tough. We’ve been working together well. I think we have a great team and we believe in each other.”
Isabel Hodgson was clear that this season’s aspirations all boil down to making Finals. “For sure, coming so close last year still hurts a bit and that is the motivation for us. We don’t want that to happen again. It is still in the back in our minds.
“It’s so important to have the core group of players from last year. We have belief. Chelsie Dawber has come out to say she wants the Golden Boot and I think she will.”
Looking ahead to their round one clash, Hodgson recognises the challenge they face. “It’s always tough to face the top team first, but we’re more than ready. Playing away makes it difficult too, but it is something we are ready for.”
Reds Loan Kayla Sharples:
Adelaide United confirmed on Wednesday the signing of United States defender, Kayla Sharples, on loan from National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) side Chicago Red Stars for the Liberty A-League 2021/22 season.
Hailing from Naperville, Illinois, the 24-year-old has played 16 matches in the American top-flight since making her debut in 2019. This year she is currently experiencing a breakout campaign starting in 12 of her 14 appearances.
The commanding centre-back is strong in the tackle, has great positional awareness to anticipate danger, and is excellent at playing out from the back.
Prior to joining Chicago, Sharples played her college career at Northwestern University between 2015 and 2018. She amassed 87 matches which included starting 86 consecutive games, scoring nine goals.
In 2020, Sharples also had a brief stint in Finland with Kuopion Palloseura (KuPS), registering six appearances.
Speaking on her decision to join the Reds, Sharples said: “I’m really excited that my footballing journey is taking me to Adelaide United.
“Getting the opportunity to play in Australia has been a goal of mine, as I’ve heard lots of good things about the quality of the competition. After talking to Adrian (Stenta) it was an easy choice for me to come to Adelaide and I can’t wait to get to work and enjoy a successful season.”
Adelaide United’s Liberty A-League Head Coach, Adrian Stenta, said: “Kayla is a fantastic player who has made great strides this year in the NWSL. She is a dominant defender and I’m confident she’ll bring more experience and leadership not only to our defence, but the squad in general.
“The season’s approaching fast, but we’ve still got a few more exciting additions to announce in the coming days.”
Sharples will join her new Adelaide United teammates upon the completion of her government-mandated quarantine.
Leadership Group Unveiled To Media:
Brisbane Roar confirmed the appointment of Ayesha Norrie as captain and Katrina Gorry as vice-captain of the club’s Liberty A-League side for the 2021/22 season on Thursday.
The new leaders were announced at a media conference at Queensland Sport and Athletics Centre a day out from the team’s flight to Western Australia for the Round One game against Perth Glory on Saturday night.
Norrie, 24, inherits the armband from club legend Clare Polkinghorne and becomes just the third player to be named captain on a full-time basis after Polkinghorne and inaugural skipper Kate McShea. The midfielder said she was proud to step into the role at the club where she made her professional debut as a teenager in 2013.
“Obviously it’s big shoes to fill but I’m hoping to do it my way as well and lead the team with ‘Mini’ alongside me,” Norrie said, “I want to be someone that leads on and off the field. I feel like I’m an approachable person and I’m transparent with the girls as well.
“There are heaps of players here that have played together already, that know each other’s strengths, and it’s just about bringing everyone together and gelling.”
Gorry, now in her tenth season with the Roar, echoed the importance of continuing Polkinghorne’s leadership legacy.
“It means a lot to me,” Gorry said. “This is my 10th year and I’m really proud to be a born and bred Brisbane player. Like ‘Eash’ said, there are massive shoes to fill with Polks. But I’ve spent a lot of time with her (Polkinghorne) and watched her grow into the leader she is, so I’m hoping I can do the same. This is going to be a learning experience for me as well and I’m excited to help lead this group.”
Head Coach Garrath McPherson said he spoke to Polkinghorne prior to Thursday’s announcement of the new captain and vice-captain, who will be supported by a wider senior leadership group.
“We have a set of values and I asked the staff around who they felt would be the right person to lead that leadership group and have the experience and confidence to have open and frank conversations about where we’re going,” McPherson said.
“And then I spoke to Clare after that staff input. I spoke to her on the phone around the decision, picked her brain, and was really pleased to hear that the two we have announced today were front of mind for her when asked about who could lead the team and the club moving forward.”
Norrie will lead the team out for the first time at Macedonia Park in Perth this Saturday, before the Roar return home to host the same opposition at the Gold Coast Croatian Sports Centre on Friday, 10 December.
Former Junior Matilda Stamatopoulos Added To Squad:
Brisbane Roar announced the addition of midfielder Nia Stamatopoulos on Thursday to its Liberty A-League side ahead of this weekend’s Round 1 match away to Perth Glory.
The gifted 18-year-old comes to the Roar fresh, fit, and with top-flight experience to her name following two seasons with Melbourne City.
The move reunites Stamatopoulos with her former Junior Matildas team-mates Jamilla Rankin and Mia Bailey, while she also played alongside Annie Haffenden at Victorian side Alamein FC.
“It’s been really good coming in with some familiar faces here to help me meet everyone and settle in quickly,” the midfielder said, “To be playing with them again is great, and having that history can only help us on the field now.
“With the team we have here, it’s such a good group – a very encouraging, close group of girls. It makes things easy going into the games. I feel like I can adapt to the game style well and hopefully I can have an influence. I’m feeling fit and ready to play. It’s very exciting.”
Head Coach Garrath McPherson praised Stamatopoulos’ qualities as a player and person and said she would be ready to make an impact in Perth on Saturday night.
“Nia is a very skilful player, very game intelligent,” McPherson said.
“After two or three sessions with the team she was able to fit into our structure for an internal game just off a team talk and some video. She’s good on set-pieces as well, which is great, and the most noticeable thing is her character. She’s friendly, positive, and she wants to learn, so she’s fitting in well.
“Nia has been around these environments before and been away at international tournaments as well, so she has experience and she knows what’s expected.”
Head Coach and Captain Launch Season:
Alex Epakis and Tash Rigby spoke to the media on Thursday ahead of Perth Glory’s season opener at home to Brisbane Roar at Macedonia Park this weekend.
“We’ve really stepped it up since last season,” Rigby observed, “Alex and the team have put in so much preparation to ensure that we have the best possible squad, and that’s really showing in training.
“Lisa De Vanna coming in has lifted standards so much. Mie (Leth Jens) came in this morning and she’s a beautiful person. We’re in a much better place than last season. We got a little bit stitched up last time (in terms of circumstances), but we’re really prepared this year. We are prepared for any hub we might have to go into as well.”
When asked about her aims for the season, Rigby shot back instantly: “Win it, baby! Look, we want to improve on last season but give it everything. The girls here last season have a real hunger. With the squad we have, we’re definitely in contention for Finals.
“Lisa (De Vanna) is so quick, no-one can catch her!” Rigby exclaimed. “She is so smart on the ball that it adds experience to the team.”
With Brisbane Roar up first on Saturday at the Glory’s new home venue of Macedonia Park, the Perth skipper said: “We want to focus on our game. They have a different squad to last year, which makes it hard to analyze them a bit. We know the general structure they have, but we want to focus on our own game.”
In his own briefing with the media, a relaxed Perth Glory head coach Alex Epakis outlined his expectations for the new campaign.
“I don’t want to put a ceiling on this team’s ambitions. The expectations are more on ourselves. We want a strong performance in every match and if we can do that, there will be no need for a ceiling.”
Epakis emphasized how the players still at the club from last season have an obvious extra spark about them this time round: “They are determined to get off to a good start. They deserve to get off with a win and have a good campaign. Last season was tough for reasons that were mostly out of our control. We have a clear idea of how we will play, we are strong as a team of people.
“We are really privileged to have Lisa (De Vanna) join us. She brings a lot of experience both on and off the field and she is a larrikin and it lightens up the mood. You go through so many emotions in professional sport. She felt this was a great environment for her to get back focused on football. She’s a joker, pulling jokes on players and staff. She has a glint in her eye, she hides and all sorts! She’s in unbelievable shape and ready to go.
“I think it’s good that we have that mix of experience to get the best out of our younger players. I’m pretty confident that many of the players here will be well known around the country and pushing for higher honours before the end of the season.”
Epakis outlined the sort of style he is looking for from his team this season. “I like aggressive play, getting forward. We have spent a lot of time bringing that style to life. For our supporters, I’d look forward to coming to watch us play.”
In terms of players unavailable for the season opener, Epakis revealed: “Demi Koulizakis picked up a bit of an injury in her first session out of quarantine. It’s gut-wrenching for her, but it won’t be for long. Cyera Hintzen, our American is still in quarantine and young Claudia (Mihocic) is still in Melbourne, but we’re looking to get her over here soon.”
In terms of how he sees Saturday’s game going, Epakis is focused on his own team rather than Brisbane. “Look, I think if we give it everything, we’re more than in with a shout.”
The future fixtures for Glory, in terms of venues are still far from certain. “We go to Brisbane next weekend, but after that, it is a bit of an unknown. What we learned last year is every week changes. We know we need to be prepared for everything.”
Teenager Hooks Added To Glory Squad
With Demi Koulizakis ruled out for the first two months of the new Liberty A-League Women season, Perth Glory confirmed on Thursday that Poppie Hooks has been added to their squad.
Koulizakis is expected to be sidelined for up to eight weeks after sustaining a knee injury in training.
16-year-old Hooks is a former Women’s NPL Under-23 Player of the Year who enjoyed another standout campaign with Murdoch University Melville FC earlier this year and Glory Head Coach Alex Epakis is confident that she can successfully make the transition to A-League football.
“It’s obviously very disappointing to lose Demi,” he said, “but her injury is not as serious as we initially feared and she is working hard to be back in action at some point next month.
“Her absence has created an opportunity for Poppie which I’m sure she will seize with both hands.
“She is a very talented young prospect who has been training with us throughout pre-season and we are all excited to see her taking the next step in her development.”
Eddy Announced As Second Overseas Jet
Newcastle Jets ended speculation about bringing in a second overseas player on Wednesday by announcing the signing of veteran American midfielder, Elizabeth Eddy for the upcoming A-League Women’s season.
Eddy makes her way to Newcastle on a loan deal from Gotham FC in New York where she played in the National Women’s Soccer League.
The 30-year-old also recently spent time playing in the top level of Sweden for Vittsjo GIK and will be looking to use her wealth of experience to help the Jets challenge for trophies this season.
Eddy said the move to Australia is one she’d been hoping to make for some time.
“For the past four years, I’ve been trying to come here to play and it hasn’t worked out, but this year it did and I think it will be one of the most impactful seasons of my life,” Eddy said.
“This season with the Jets, I want to win – win on the field and win off the field.
“I love to compete so I’m looking forward to playing and getting to know my teammates and the rest of the staff.”
Having scouted Eddy for a while, Head Coach Ash Wilson was delighted to finally have her at the Club, in time for the start of the new season.
“I expect Eddy will have a large impact on the playing group,” Wilson said.
“She is a competitive player who is not only technically gifted but has a strong work rate and versatility.
“She loves to contribute in attack and that suits the way we want our team to play. I think the fans will love her competitive mentality.”
Cassidy Davis and Marie Markussen At Season Launch Event:
In Newcastle Jets’ season-opening event, Cassidy Davis spoke of her excitement about the campaign opening at last.
“Pre-season has been tough, we had it a bit different to last year, and so I feel a little bit fitter. We’ve also played a couple of trial games against the men’s team and also Western Sydney Wanderers, although results didn’t go our way, I felt there are a lot of positive signs and Ash (Wilson – head coach) is happy with us.”
She also spoke of the benefits of having two overseas players in the squad now. “It adds something to everyone’s game but also we can learn from them as people too. Ash has done really well with recruitment.
“Ash has said to us that now there are no excuses for us. We have experience, we have overseas talent, now is the time. We can’t say we’re building and we’ll be strong next year, the time is now.”
Looking ahead to Jets’ opening clash with Sydney FC, Davis expects a tough test. “Sydney are Sydney. They’ve played together for years. It is always one we want to win and we will do everything we can to win. You can’t get away with losing too many games from the start in this competition.”
Markussen began her first detailed Australian media event by revealing how the settling-in process has been going and mentioned a minor injury issue that she is looking to overcome.
“Pretty good,” she said, “I’ve been here two weeks now and am really enjoying it. The girls are welcoming me and they are really nice. The quality is good and things look promising. The league will be good. I hope to add something and score some goals. I have had a bit of a heel injury recently due to playing on different, synthetic pitches in Scandinavia, so I need to get used to grass again. My body is just adjusting, it will get used to it and will pass.”
“I came to Australia because the league looks fun and people have said lots of nice things about it. I was looking to come overseas to play and my agent fixed this up. I really wanted to come to Newcastle, when I had the chance I straight away packed my bags, and here I am!”
In terms of her personal aims for the season, Markussen identified: “I want to help the team and get some good games to help me with Norway. This is a good league, so it will help me a lot. I have played in Germany in the past for a year and half before going back to Norway, but this is exciting to be here. I have friends who have played here and they have really enjoyed it, so it was a really good choice for me.”
WELLINGTON PHOENIX: Alfeld Named Inaugeral Captain
Experienced goalkeeper Lily Alfeld has been appointed captain of the Wellington Phoenix for their maiden A-League women’s season, following a vote by her teammates. The same process saw 18-year-old defender Kate Taylor named vice-captain.
Adopting a model used by other high performance teams such as the Silver Ferns, New Zealand’s national netball team, the players were asked to answer a number of questions about the team’s leadership in an anonymous survey.
“We tailor-made it to the Wellington Phoenix and the team we wanted to select,” head coach Gemma Lewis said.
“What kind of person builds confidence for you? Who do you trust? Who do you respect? Who leads on the field? Who demonstrates work ethic and the principles that we want to represent as a team?
“And ultimately one of the last questions was who would you vote for as your captain?
“It was a very open process…really engaging the playing group because I think it really needs to be a role that can kind of be a go between myself and the players and also somebody that can take charge on the field and within the playing environment as well.”
Alfeld was Lewis’ first signing and quickly emerged as the obvious candidate to lead the team.
“We took a bit of time before announcing because we wanted to make sure it was the right person, but from the moment we started the team…she’s really stood up as a leader within the group,” Lewis said.
“The players really look up to her, they come to her for advice both on and off the field so it ended up being quite an easy choice for us and the players.”
The former New Zealand age-group representative is the oldest player in the inaugural squad at 26 and joins the club from Perth Glory, where she started all 12 of their matches last season and led the league with 53 saves.
She says she didn’t see her appointment as captain coming.
“It’s a huge honour,” Alfeld said. “Being named as captain for any team is a huge honour but to have the opportunity to lead the girls out on that pitch for the first time in our inaugural season…it’s a very special moment for me.
“This will be another first, captaining at a professional level. It’ll be a huge step up but it’s a challenge I’m really looking forward to.”
And Alfeld is humbled to have been voted captain by her peers.
“I’m very proud of to know that my own teammates would see me in that position and see me capable of doing this role.
“That gives me the confidence going ahead.”
Young defender Kate Taylor has been named the Phoenix’s vice-captain.
Taylor is one of eight 18-year-olds in the squad and joined the club from the successful Canterbury United Pride side that won its third successive national championship last year.
Gemma Lewis acknowledges appointing such a young vice-captain will surprise some.
“I think people would definitely raise their eyebrows at it, but anybody that knows Kate probably isn’t that surprised,” Lewis said.
“And if you look at the demographic of our team she is probably not a super young person within our team. She’s looked up to a lot and…she comes up highly across a lot of those things we asked within the survey.
“She leads by example on the field. She’s starting to really develop her leadership qualities. She holds people accountable. Her work ethic within training and games is outstanding and people really look up to her.
“I think she’s going to be a really good complement to Lily in terms of their leadership styles. With the two of them it really helps cover the demographic of our team and really produces a leadership team that is really going to benefit the group.”
And Taylor has the backing of the new captain.
“I can’t speak more highly of Kate. She’s such a talented player with a huge career ahead of her. I think she’ll go on to play for New Zealand for many years,” Alfeld said.
“I think it’s definitely a massive opportunity for her to not only develop as a player, but also as a leader for women’s football in New Zealand.”
The Wellington Phoenix play their historic first match against the Western Sydney Wanderers on Friday.
Kramer Announced As Final Phoenix Player
Wellington Phoenix have finalised their inaugural squad on the eve of their maiden Liberty A-League Women season.
The Phoenix have signed experienced defender Talitha Kramer as their 20th and final player.
Kramer brings invaluable experience to the team, having played 21 matches for the Western Sydney Wanderers over the course of the 2017/18 and 2018/19 W-League seasons.
She trained with her teammates for the first time in Wollongong this morning, ahead of their historic opening match against the Wanderers at WIN Stadium tomorrow night.
It is a homecoming for Kramer, as she played for the Illawarra Stingrays in the New South Wales Women’s competition during the winter.
“It’s great being a local player and I’ve played in the W-League previously so I’m hoping to help the girls in any way I can,” Kramer said.
“I know for a lot of the girls this is the first professional competition they’ve played in so I’ll help guide them along.
“I know a lot of the players in the league because I’ve played with them before. I know how teams are structured and their style of play so I’m hoping I can help in that way with insight into the other teams.”
Kramer hasn’t featured in the W-League for the past two seasons because of serious groin and knee injuries, but made 12 appearances for the Stingrays this year and scored five goals.
“I had a really good season, the body feels really good and I’m so excited to get back into the A-League again.
At 30, Kramer is four years older than the next eldest Phoenix squad member, which has an average age of just 20.
“I’m a bit above that average age, that’s for sure,” she quipped.
“I’m definitely looking forward to meeting everybody and having a chat with the coaches.”
Because of her late addition to the squad, Kramer won’t be considered for Wellington’s maiden match against the Western Sydney Wanderers tomorrow night.
Phoenix Land Sponsorship At Last
Two Wellington businesses have answered the call to support the inaugural Wellington Phoenix women’s team.
New Zealand Campus of Innovation and Sport (NZCIS) has signed on as the principal partner for the Phoenix in the 2021/22 Liberty A-League women’s competition, while Comrad Medical Systems has also stepped to become a premium partner.
It comes just three days after the club put out a public plea for commercial assistance as the Phoenix women faced starting their historic first campaign without any sponsorship.
NZCIS owners Malcolm Gillies and Kevin Melville reached out to the club on Monday night after talking to their general manager Jamie Tout.
“Seconds after the story broke Monday night, I had a call from Jamie asking what do you think? Well, it’s the right thing to do,” Gillies said.
He shared phone calls with Melville and Phoenix general manager David Dome in the next 30 minutes and the deal was done.
“A partnership with the Phoenix women is not about the feel-good factor, or if they are going to win the competition,” Gillies said.
“It’s a young side with an average age of 20, who have an opportunity to play professionally, inspire others and they deserve that chance as per their male counterparts.”
Dome has welcomed NZCIS and Comrad on board.
“We’re very happy to announce two new sponsorships,” Dome said.
“With a few notable exceptions corporate New Zealand is missing in action when it comes to sponsoring women’s sport,” Dome said.
“Fortunately some proud Wellingtonians have stepped up to sponsor the Wellington Phoenix women.”
“Malcolm, Kevin and NZCIS are great supporters of the Wellington Phoenix and they have answered the call when we needed them the most.
“We are also very appreciative of Glenn Stewart and Catherine Savage from Comrad Medical Systems for stepping up.
“It was looking rather bleak at the start of the week, but now New Zealand’s first professional women’s football team has two commercial partners.”
The club has been working around the clock to get the new shirts printed in time for the team’s inaugural game against the Western Sydney Wanderers at WIN Stadium in Wollongong on Friday night.
“They are the first professional women’s football team in New Zealand and they need to look the part for their debut,” Dome said.
“It is the first game of the new season and it is live and free-to-air on Prime so there will be a lot of eyes on our young team.”
The Wellington Phoenix already have a partnership with NZCIS and will move the club’s offices and training base to their world-leading high-performance sports hub in Upper Hutt, when it opens next year.
Dome says NZCIS is a perfect fit as the women’s principal partner.
“Like the Phoenix, NZCIS place the utmost importance in gender equality, with their new state-of-the-art facility built with both men’s and women’s sports in mind.”