by Ben Gilby
Above: My Western Australia state flag, Perth Glory hat, scarf, and shirt, but no matches to wear them to…Photo: Ben Gilby.
Being a football fan is all about the anticipation of the next matchday, discussing the previous game with friends leading up to the next match, and then providing full-throated support of your team for the whole 90 minutes.
But what happens when your team’s ground is nine thousand miles away, and you haven’t seen them play in the flesh since 2008?
The one women’s football team that I am truly passionate about is Perth Glory, and have been since their formation for the inaugural W-League (now A-League Women) season in 2008 with a then 15-year-old Sam Kerr playing for her hometown club.
Despite being born in South-West London and being brought up in Surrey, the country I’ve always had the deepest passion for is Australia. The specific area of Australia I deeply love is Western Australia (WA). Having family living just outside Fremantle, I have spent many months of my life in WA. It’s my happy place. When I’m there, I feel complete. When I’m not there, I constantly catch myself thinking back to places I’ve been to around the state.
In terms of sport, most of my earliest experiences out there were watching Aussie Rules sides West Coast Eagles in the national AFL combined with Subiaco Lions or East Perth Royals in the state league WAFL. The round ball game was my sport of choice in England, and so when I overheard the following conversation at the Eagles’ cavernous then home of Subiaco Oval, my ears immediately pricked up.
“Ya know Daniel’s got a little sister who’s pretty handy at soccer!”
The comment was made by a guy sat in the row behind me and marked the first time I was ‘introduced’ to Sam Kerr who would then have been 15 years old.
The ‘Daniel’ is her big brother, who starred for the Eagles from 2001 to 2013, playing 220 games and winning the 2006 AFL Premiership.
The next day, upon catching up with my family out there, I asked them what they knew about ‘Daniel Kerr’s little sister.’ “Ah yeh, she’s some teenager who’s going to be playing with Perth Glory next season.”
Coming back during the first ever W-League season, then consisting of just ten rounds and eight clubs, I went along to watch the mighty purples take on Queensland Roar.
As I now work in education in England, it’s impossible for me to get to Australia to watch my team play during the A-League Women season, as there’s only enough time for a journey there in August during the six-week school summer holidays. During all those many visits to WA since then, I’ve watched lots of the state-level women’s games, which are hugely enjoyable and I’ve seen some superb players who are now stars of the A-League Women – and in 2022 was thrilled to watch young WA stars like Tanika Lala, Ischia Brooking, and Grace Johnston in the flesh – all of whom can be big stars in the future.
So, given all of this, why is it that when anyone asks me which women’s team I support, my answer is Perth Glory – and not a WSL side?
The answer is bound up in the fourth paragraph of this article. Perth and WA are my happy place. When I’m there, I feel complete. When I’m not there, I constantly catch myself thinking back to places I’ve been to.
Sport brings out passion and emotions in people, linked to sense of place and repeated rituals. The cultural geographer in me remains intrinsically fascinated by this. Perth Glory’s women team keeps alive my connection with the state that is in my heart, with the family I might only see once every other year. Watching them play each week online or on TV – at ridiculous hours of the morning sometimes – brings the city of Perth into my home. And that is an electric connection. It’s why on those winter commutes to work on the bus, I’m togged up in my Perth Glory purple hat and scarf, getting strange looks from others around South-West London.
The conversation usually goes like this.
Me: “It’s Perth Glory.”
Bemused South-West London commuter: “Who?!”
Those early mornings at the weekend with my purple and orange shirt on – and, if it’s a big game, I will admit to draping my Perth Glory scarf around the bottom of the TV – have become a weekly event for the duration of the W/A-League Women season. Shouting “Come on Perth” as the first whistle goes, and yelling (subsequently waking up the neighbours) when important Perth goals go in.
That’s my matchday Perth Glory experience. No beer at the ground with mates, no standing behind the goal roaring the team on. No lining up around the fence for selfies or autographs with players, which, of course, any self-respecting A-League Women fan would do after a match.
Over the last three years, I’ve been able to build a different form of relationship with my team. Once Impetus grew from a minuscule site to one able to have more than just one contributor, I vowed to myself that I would personally strive to shine a light on the women’s game in WA. There are too many people, too many clubs, battling against the odds to produce great female football players.
With Australia being so east-coast dominated both population-wise and politically, added to by Perth’s status as the most isolated major city on earth, so many of WA’s footballing stories don’t reach the audience they deserve to. The state is treated as an afterthought at best by the sport’s authorities on countless occasions.
Back in September, there was a closed social media discussion involving women’s football writers in England that I was asked to contribute to. The question being discussed was:
Which two players are you most excited about watching this season?
The answers were mostly players such as Beth Mead, Alessia Russo, or Sam Kerr. Who were my chosen players?
Alana Jancevski and Charli Grant.
Whilst quite a few of those in the discussion knew of Grant from her embryonic international career, the reaction to Jancevski was “who?” My reply that the Perth Glory youngster is one of those generational players who can produce a piece of magic out of nothing and rocket in a sensational goal, elicited a brief response of “sounds good”, but that was that. Everyone went back to discussing WSL players. I was left smiling after pushing Perth Glory once more. Even if I may have possibly contributed to a WSL club coming and taking one of Perth’s young guns away by mentioning the name and planting a seed.
For the past two and a half seasons, I’ve been in a position where, as a writer, I can connect with Perth Glory’s players and coach on a regular basis. I can ask the players I cheer for at ridiculously early times each weekend what they think about things, and I know they will be brutally honest with me.
Whilst it can make it hard at times to separate being someone with a deep fandom of Perth Glory’s women team from being able to cover them as a writer, it has just added another level of attachment for me to the state of WA, the city of Perth, and the wider condition of the women’s game in the area.
One of these days, someone there will allow me to live the dream and be paid for doing it. Rather than being passionate about WA women’s football from nine thousand miles away, I could finally do it within the state or city itself.
The state NPL women’s competition might be perceived as being behind that of the east coast states. WA’s sole A-League Women side might not get the profile that the east coast state sides have – but WA women’s football is deserving and worthy of wider coverage.