The uphill battles of Australian women’s soccer


Photo: Supplied

Young female soccer players from the Strathfield Strikers FC

The culture of Australian female football, i.e. soccer, requires a serious increase of promotion and investment, with the further education and encouragement of aspiring players, for the game to be regarded with the same level of seriousness that its male counterpart receives.

This sobering truth was revealed in an hour-long conversation with Angelica Georgopoulos, a 21-year-old Greenacre resident and game development officer with the Canterbury District Soccer Football Association under Football NSW.

Working with her sister Alexandra and Trudy Burke, a former-female football league player, this position requires Angelica to travel throughout our state to schools, clubs, and events, teaching fundamental playing skills known as game-based learning.

Angelica also studies a degree in Advanced Business Leadership at Western Sydney University, majoring in Sports Management. When she isn’t travelling state-wide, developing and refereeing football programs for girls and women aged from four to 65, much of Angelica’s time revolves involves volunteering for her local football club. She is the junior vice president and the youngest executive committee member of the Strathfield Strikers FC, the team she plays for, and she holds a retail job on the side.

This level of intense community involvement allows Angelica to observe many prejudices related to this sport, spawned from conflicting opinions on modern female soccer in Australia.

“We’re not prepared to be a footballing country,” she claims.

Issues of age, economy, and cultural differences contribute to this gender-based battle, within a global framework in which two percent of our world’s football CEOs are female. A culture of tokenism is inherent in the sport, caused by FIFA’s requirement for one female to be elected into each of our world’s seven continental councils, when there should be many more. These were just a few of the difficult observations that Angelica had to share.

Australia’s need for local players to pay for annual entry into their teams has resulted in a shrinking national talent pool, due to skilled street players lacking the funds needed to become professional. Consequences of this have been demonstrated internationally, as shown in recent poor performances from our national men’s team, the Socceroos, counterpart to our national female team, the Matildas.

When compared to Europe and the UK, where a majority of soccer funding is directed towards growing small community teams, and where talent-scouting and sponsorships take precedence over the collection of annual fees, it’s little wonder we’ve been doing poorly.

“[Other countries are] looking for talent, they’re not looking for who can afford it…you have to question where the money is going,” Angelica explains. “I was in Manchester before COVID hit, last year…England’s football team is incredible compared to us.” Fortunately, Angelica’s Strathfield club have heavily discounted their annual fees for new players. “If we didn’t discount our prices, normally you’d be paying close to $485-$495, and that’s just local,” she says.

Unless you’re financially entitled, these community-level organisations are where everyone’s football careers start, and they require a lot more attention and funding in Australia. Furthermore, two years ago, the Socceroos were getting paid double what the Matilda’s received, and new players didn’t have to pay to register – whereas new Matildas did, in the thousands.

Men in this representative level were being specially selected and paid accordingly. Fortunately, this injustice was settled in October 2019 as part of a four year deal between Football Federation Australia and sports union Professional Footballers Australia.

Gritty business aside, global generations of aspiring female soccer-players still have psychological hurdles to overcome for empowerment’s sake. These obstacles are often entrenched by the inequities of gender status and gender-based roles, which result in problematic situations for girls and women.

 “A lot of women are compromised when it comes to playing, ” Angelica says. 

Although many women may wish to play, commitment issues arise for aspiring female players due to family roles which require them to be present as carers at games – while watching their partners or children play. Angelica refers to her mum as being among this group, while stating, “We tried so hard to get those women into the game, because they’re already at the field.”

A significant increase of female soccer players, volunteers, and coaches has been identified over the past five to eight years, but it’s still not enough. Angelica dreams of a society in which young girls view female soccer players as “normal”, as opposed to her thinking that it was “weird” when she was a young girl herself.

Another issue arises when male soccer executives interview prospective female employees while secretly pondering the likelihood of these women wanting to get married, start families, and raise children. This has unfortunately resulted in a highly competitive environment for female professionals in Australian soccer. Angelica claims that these women view new female colleagues as threats rather than encouragements, due to the gruelling personal processes required to gain placement in these positions.

Instead of fostering anxieties based on age or the physical intensity of the sport, Angelica says aspiring female soccer players could learn something from the unabashed confidence that many male soccer players possess. In turn, help from men will assist in developing female soccer into a serious force within our sporting nation.

“The female game is still in its early development phase,” Angelica says. “I think we forget that the men’s game has been going for hundreds of years.”

Angelica Georgopoulos in referee mode (Photo: Supplied)

Though this process has a long way to go, some small-scale community achievements have already been noted, due to Football NSW’s prioritisation for developing the playing skills of girls and women. An encouragement of women in the over-30s age group has now led to the emergence of some new, high quality players in teams across NSW. “I think that [Football NSW] have got three new teams playing in the women’s over-30s, and women’s all-age,” Angelica reveals.

Regarding younger females, Angelica beams with pride when she recounts seeing an under-16 boys team playing against a 16-year old girls team earlier this month, in which the boys were apparently “getting smashed” by the girls.

“Times are changing when I saw that,” Angelica says. “This is a good sign…we’re making big things happen now.” One ‘big thing’ is the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup, which will be taking place in Sydney in 2023.

Angelica was part of the bidding process with Football Federation Australia, in which she promoted the major event to six or seven local clubs as an ambassador for the game.

The overwhelming amount of signatures received enabled the cup to take place in two years time in Sydney – but there is a chance of failure, as not enough people know about it.

Angelica’s vision of a successful female world cup stems from her experience of attending the previous Women’s World Cup in France, which took place in 2019 in front of a sold-out stadium of over 80,000 people. What astounded Angelica most was the apparent presence of more young boys in attendance than young girls.

Away from the dazzling world of flood-lit stadiums and seismic cheers, hype for promoting feoung female soccer players from the Strathfield Strikers FC. male football is sparked at community levels. To sum things up through another wise quote from Angelica, “It really comes down to education…We need to showcase our females and prove that they can play, you just have to give them a chance.”


This article was previously published in the Sydney Sentinel.