In the latest of our Midweek Dub series of interviews with A-League Women players, Wellington Phoenix’s Chloe Knott speaks about the challenges of her earliest days playing the game as a young girl in the North-West of England, her fierce desire to play international football, and the passionate belief she has that Phoenix will turn their season around (11/1/23).
Above: Chloe Knott in action for Wellington Phoenix against Melbourne Victory this season. Photo: Wellington Phoenix.
by Ben Gilby
Chloe Knott’s footballing career has been one full of challenges and hurdles to overcome from its earliest moments to the present day.
Growing up in Bolton, in the North-West of England, Knott began playing football with her Dad and local boys before going on to have a trial for Blackburn Rovers, who are now a second-tier club. However, a number of the midfielder’s contemporaries who began playing the game in Lancashire at that time reported how tough it was as a young girl to be playing football – both in terms of perception and how they could be treated.
For Knott, the game in England at the time failed to offer her the opportunities that are around in New Zealand as she outlined: “In England, it felt hard thinking about becoming a professional and making money playing football. When I moved to New Zealand it seemed like there were a lot more opportunities open to me, in terms of potentially playing overseas. It was not having a home team in New Zealand that made it hard though – you couldn’t stay here and play football as a career. Having the Phoenix now makes it incredible for girls in New Zealand.”
The Wellington Phoenix star’s early days in England and the fact it has contributed towards preventing her from playing international football for New Zealand due to not having spent enough consistent time in the country remains a major source of frustration.
“It’s been really challenging, it’s been such a long time of wanting to do it (play for NZ), but not being able to. I just want to be able to be selected because of ability and compared to the best of the best, seeing where I stack up. Hopefully, we’ll get there. Phoenix has really helped with that though, having a New Zealand representative team in that way has helped to fill the void.”
The void that Phoenix has filled for Knott is one that fills her with a huge sense of pride. “That first game wearing the Phoenix jersey for the first time – creating history together was incredible. The first win was amazing; doing it as a team, going through it all together, it was really special.”
Yet, even that campaign was full of challenges of the highest order. Due to te COVID pandemic, Wellington were unable to play any home games in the A-League Women and were forced to spend their inaugural season based out of a hub in Wollongong, New South Wales, some 2,222km from their home city. It was a situation that had a huge impact on the group emotionally:
“The hardest thing was seeing the younger girls struggle with not having family around and having to navigate all the ups and down – especially knowing there is only so much you can do in that situation. It was a tough time. Having Christmas away from family was hard as I’m a real Christmas girl.Chloe Knott on the most challenging aspects of having to spend all of last season’s A-League Women season outside of New Zealand.
Out of tough times come examples of people stepping up and going above and beyond. For the Phoenix midfielder, last season’s head coach Gemma Lewis comes into that category.
“She had high standards and demanded a lot from us in terms of professionalism, but she was quite supportive. It was really tough being away (from New Zealand for all of last season), but she was great at supporting us, particularly the younger girls.”
With Lewis departing Wellington during the close season to take up a job at the FA Wales in her home country, the club appointed her assistant Nat Lawrence as the new head coach. Knott strongly supported the decision: “Nat was so supportive last season too, so having already got that relationship with the players is important. She is a great person and we respect her.”
With the COVID pandemic’s restrictions largely lifted, it meant that at last Wellington Phoenix would be able to play home matches in front of their home fans. That first occasion, in front of a record A-League Women crowd of 5,213 for a stand-alone game against Melbourne City was arguably the highlight of Knott’s career on so many levels.
“The first game – that feeling of doing it for New Zealand and the pride in doing it for New Zealand girls who have never had that opportunity. It represented so much more than just ourselves. It was so special to see all those messages coming in after the game saying how proud everyone was and how the young girls loved watching us.”
The wider impact of having a fully professional women’s team playing home games in New Zealand is something that excites the midfielder on a deeper level.
“It makes it feel possible to stay in New Zealand, at home with your family, and be able to play in a professional team and compete at a high level. It’s such a good opportunity for young girls who might not want to go overseas to still play professional football at a high level. Hopefully, it will grow the game and make more girls want to play.”
With the duel combination of home matches and putting together a squad with an experienced Kiwi spine as well as keeping hold of the majority of their young stars from last season, Phoenix were expected by some to be pushing towards midtable. It hasn’t quite worked out like that so far.
“It’s been a slow build,” admitted Knott. We’re still learning heaps. I’m still learning a lot about my game. Obviously, we didn’t want to be losing games, we had higher expectations (of ourselves) from the start, but we know it’s a learning process. We’re building every week and we can see that growth every week.
“We want to be competitive and still want to make Finals. I 100% back us to turn the season around and start getting wins. We can compete with the best teams for a half or 70 minutes. We competed for the whole 90 against Adelaide United. I think we are going to turn it around, and I back us!”