Above: Kate Taylor (right) battles against Sydney FC’s Australian international Remy Siemsen earlier this season. Photo: Getty Images, supplied to Impetus by: Wellington Phoenix
Wellington Phoenix’s 18-year-old vice-captain Kate Taylor has been one of her side’s stand-out players in their first-ever A-League Women season. The defender spoke exclusively to Impetus for our #MidweekDub feature about her footballing journey and what life is like as part of New Zealand’s first professional women’s football team (19/1/22).
Kate Taylor is one of the young players to watch in the A-League Women competition this season. Whilst she is exceptionally young and has no previous professional footballing experience, the Kiwi reads the game in a way that a player twice her age would be proud of. She opened our conversation by outlining her footballing journey so far.
“So, I started at my local club in my region which was Nomads United (based in Casebrook, Christchurch). It was definitely a boys’ club or a male-dominated club. That helped me. I started with my sister in the team and my Dad coaching. That changed as both are nowhere near the sport now!
“I stayed there until I was 13, playing in the boys’ comp and I never really played any age group tournaments until a later coach picked me up and that was for an under-14s competition. If that coach hadn’t have done that then I don’t think I’d be where I am today.
“From there I started at the Canterbury United Pride Youth set up and played in some junior international programmes. I spent the last year going up and down to Auckland and playing with boys again, and that’s all helped me to get to where I am now at the Phoenix.”
Being part of the Under-14s national competition was the beginning of a realization for Taylor that football could be something she could pursue long term.
“Up until then, I wasn’t sure that football would be my main sport as I always wanted to play any sport I could. Touch (rugby) was a sport I played a lot of as well as Futsal, Cross Country, and Athletics. Being part of the Under-14’s comp was the point I finally realized that football could be something that could take me further than New Zealand and I could earn money playing.”
Taylor was part of a hugely successful Canterbury United Pride team who have won New Zealand’s Women’s National League six times in the past nine years. The teenage defender has no doubts as to why the team has had continued success.
“Ah, that’s down to Gunny (Alana Gunn, head coach). She’s been involved for a number of years now and the core group of girls who have been there for six or seven years. New players have come in and changed the playing style in small ways, but those are the reasons, definitely.”
Whilst the defender’s career is still in its embryonic stages, she has still had to overcome challenges. “Having to juggle football and travelling for it whilst still being at school was hard. I was training with boys as well which made it extra hard. They were a bit younger than me and less mature, so that was tough, but it was football and where I wanted to be, so that helped me.
“I had lots of teachers who helped me through because I wasn’t at school much. Knowing I was working towards something bigger helped me to overcome those things. I was trying to push for something in football, so that helped to fix itself.”
With school now over and continuing developments in her game, once Wellington Phoenix’s entry into the A-League Women was announced, it wasn’t long before they came knocking on Taylor’s door. She explained to us how it happened.
“At the start of 2021, I was in touch a lot with Gemma (Lewis – now Phoenix head coach) and Nat (Lawrence assistant) through the U20s and U17 National Team and the national team’s pre-Olympic camp. It helped me to get to know them better. That is a big reason why I am here.”
Phoenix’s late entry into the competition meant that players were arriving in small numbers throughout the short pre-season period that the club had. Taylor reflected on that situation and admitted that it was hard.
“When we first got together in Wellington, we had up to 12 players. Not many, and that was tough. It was enjoyable as we were doing it together, but hard. When we came over to Australia we were a little bit nervous about meeting the Australian players in our squad for the first time, but it was fine. It was really helpful that all the Aussies knew each other already before they joined us. We all came together really nicely. It just felt normal in the end.
“There was definitely a difference between how Aussies play and how Kiwis play. They are quite transitional in their play and are getting used to how Gemma and Nat want us to play. The Aussies are physical, they like to keep the ball. I think you can see that we play a lot differently to the other teams in the competition and that’s why.”
There were some raised eyebrows when Gemma Lewis announced the 18-year-old as Wellington’s inaugural vice-captain, but her assured and commanding displays in the opening weeks of the campaign marked Taylor out as a player who is wise beyond her years.
“I don’t model my game on other players. I like to watch football but I don’t change my game or do things differently just because I see other players doing it. I haven’t really done too much so far from a vice-captain’s perspective so far. There’s just been a focus on the opening games of the season, which have been hard enough in themselves. I think it will be a fun role. At the same time, extra responsibility comes with added stress and I want to try and relieve that. I’m looking at how I can help Lily (Alfeld – captain), the coaches, and any players that need it.
As our conversation moved towards its conclusion, the Phoenix defender outlined her personal aims for the season. “Consistency is a big one for me. It’s hard to play the same and hit the same heights every week, so I want to try and bring that across the season.
“I want to improve on the small, little things that I have identified. It’s hard in a team, especially one that is new to improve on those sorts of things. Oh, I want to win some games!”
Taylor also highlighted what, for her, a successful maiden season for Wellington Phoenix would look like: “For us to score more goals, whether they are scrappy or a nicely constructed goals. To get a couple of wins or upsets to build confidence. We’re new and trying to adapt to everything. It’s all an unknown for us still.”
With the 18-year-old in such good form at the start of her A-League Women adventure, international recognition is something that cannot be too far away.
“Playing for the Football Ferns is something I’ve dreamed of since I was young, so I’m pushing for that now and I’d love to go on a tour or to the World Cup or Olympics. But also the U20s, and the U20s Women’s World Cup in August 2022 is getting close now, and I’d love to be part of that.
“I definitely think that playing in the A-League Women with Phoenix puts me in a good place for international recognition. I know that where I am now puts me in the best possible place for me and anyone else who wants to aim higher.”