Sunday 8 March 2015 is the inaugural celebration of the AFC Women’s Football Day, which coincides with International Women’s Day.
AFC Women’s Football Day is designed to recognise, celebrate and promote the development of women’s football.
As part of this celebration, Football Federation Australia has chosen to highlight some of the unsung heroes who have contributed greatly to football in Australia, be it at the grassroots or elite levels of the game.
These stories include referees Kelly Jones (NSW) & Elisabeth Bridson (VIC), Volunteer Administrators Helen Stallon (QLD) & Heidi Lazzaro (WA), Brisbane Roar’s Community Football Coordinatior Rozanne Burley (QLD) and the Central Coast Mariners Football Business Manager, Sharon Baxter (NSW).
Each of these stories show a woman who has a genuine passion for football and has gone over and above in their efforts towards their chosen area of involvement in the game.
Today Football Federation Australia recognises the valuable contribution of these women and the thousands of women involved in football Australia-wide who have made the sport what it is today.
A referee on the rise - by Nikola Pozder – Football NSW
Kelly Jones has been involved in the women’s game and football for over 10 years. Her passion and contribution for the sport has seen her rise through the system as one of Australia’s most gifted young referees.
Her first involvement in the game was at the age of 14, in futsal. The next year Jones pulled on the boots and played in her local competition for Kenthurst FC.
Growing up in a football crazed family who have all refereed at some point of their lives, it was inevitable that Jones would pick up the whistle sooner or later.
Futsal would again be the beginning of something new for Jones as she completed her first refereeing course.
“My father encouraged me to do a Futsal Referee Course at Dural Sport & Leisure Centre to earn some extra pocket money and I loved it immediately.”
It didn’t take Jones long to move from the indoor scene to the outdoor fields. Only a year later she completed a female only football refereeing course at Valentine Sports Park, registering with the Gladesville Hornsby Football Referees Association (GHFRA).
“For the first three years I worked my way up with GHFRA starting with Under 9s through to All Age Men.
“At 18 I joined the Referee’s Development Panel (RDP) and I then later joined the NSW State League Football Referees.”
Jones has now been officiating in the centre of the park for the last 10 years, registering various achievements along the way.
“I attended my first Futsal National Championships in Canberra in 2006 and have done so every year since. I currently referee the Futsal Premier League & F-League.
“I’ve officiated at the State Titles, the U16 National Championships, the U19 National Championships, the Girl’s Institute Challenge and I currently referee the Men’s & Women’s National Premier Leagues in NSW.”
The young referee’s talent hasn’t gone unnoticed. Jones now referees at the highest level of women’s football in the country, the Westfield W-League.
“In 2012 I made it onto the W-League and it’s been awesome as the game is improving and getting faster every year.
“The following year I was nominated by Ben Wilson (FFA Referee Director) for a National Officiating Scholarship (NOS) with the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.
“Last year I was lucky enough to be chosen to attend the 35 th Dr Pepper Dallas Cup in Texas, USA.”
The Women’s game is on the rise in Australia, and Jones feels refereeing is an important element in its development.
“Women’s football has undergone significant growth and for this to continue we need referees to support it.
“Match officials make an important contribution to the game. A match official who is on top of their game makes the game more enjoyable for the players and fans.”
Jones is full of encouragement for aspiring female referees.
“Practice often and referee whenever you can. Listen and learn from your assessors, review your games and try to learn from your experiences.
“Training is important, I train during the week and referee most weekends.
“I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t really enjoy it and I would definitely recommend it to everyone.”
Educating the next generation of Referees - by Alen Delic – Football Federation Victoria
Elisabeth Bridson became a referee for her kids.
A regular Sunday morning would see Bridson take her kids to their local football club, but it'd be anything but a relaxing morning.
She'd often find herself stepping into the centre circle, or helping out on the sideline.
"We lived past the Dandenongs, and we were often left without a referee," Bridson says.
"One year over Christmas, I read Pierluigi Collina's autobiography and thought, maybe I'd like to become a referee.
"So the next time I found out about a course, I enrolled, and the rest is history."
Ten years have passed, and since then, Bridson has gone on to become one of the most respected and revered figures in Victorian football.
She started refereeing juniors in her local community in the Dandenong Ranges, and has even done games at the highest level of women's football in Victoria in the Sportsmart Women's Premier League.
Bridson has also become a referee Level Four course presenter, an assessor, and also runs respect and responsibility programs.
Last year, she was even the face of an anti-referee abuse campaign run by FFV.
"When I did my refereeing course ten years ago, it was one of the worst courses I've ever been involved in, and I thought it had to be improved if we were to improve the standard of refereeing,"Bridson said.
"I did a review of referees and refereeing, and helped develop the Respect and Responsibility course.
"It's gone onwards and upwards, and Luke Brennan, Chris Bambridge, Chris Hope, and Dave Bartlett are doing wonderful things."
She did all this while working, and even while being a member of the committee of her local football club.
Bridson found that being involved in a committee would see her involved in all areas of the club.
"We would all be rostered on for various duties around the club, whether it was to the canteen, or to provide the oranges, or even to run the line.
"In my daughter's team, I had one mum in little high heels come up to me and ask, 'if I'm running the line, which way do I point the flag?
"I used to love running the line."
Bridson is still running the line today.
She's re-registered to referee again in 2015 and still plans on helping train and guide new referees into Victorian football.
"But I have to pass the fitness test first," she said.
A cool operator in the Tropical North - By Matt Dorman
Born and raised in Townsville, Helen Stallan has become an integral member of the North Queensland Football community thanks to her tireless efforts in administrative roles behind the scenes.
In addition to a long-running position with Townsville Football, Stallan has recently been installed as secretary of North Queensland Football.
“It’s looking good here,” Helen said.
“The new board I believe will be particularly good with North Queensland Football and Townsville Football being amalgamated.
“I’m certainly looking forward to what the next two or three years are going to be bring.”
While her contribution has been undoubtedly monumental – being awarded Life Membership of both Townsville Football and local club Wulguru United – Stallan’s involvement with the sport began as simply as any other: through family.
“I was a mother first,” Helen said.
“I then became a team manager and went on to serving on the committee of a club for 10 years or so and started at North Queensland Football part-time probably 36 years ago.”
Latterly, Stallan has accepted a nomination to join the board of PlayStation® 4 National Premier Leagues Queensland club Northern Fury FC.
Stallan is excited about the future as Fury establishes itself in Australia’s national second tier and as part of the elite player pathway.
“I think it’s great,” she said.
“I went up to Cairns on the weekend and watched Fury win their first ever game against FNQ FC Heat so that was very nice.”
Just a few years away from her 40 th anniversary in football the North Queenslander is enjoying as many responsibilities as ever.
What, then, has been the key to such longevity?
“I have great belief in children and in the game,” Helen enthused.
Reciprocal belief is certainly well earned. Helen says she intends on remaining in her present roles for a few more years yet. The football community will be all the better for it.
Mrs President leads by example in the West - By Jonathan Cook
Heidi Lazzaro has been on the go for more than nine hours when she arrives at Dalmatinac Park, the home of National Premier Leagues WA club Cockburn City, to continue her long voluntary shift.
Most of this particular Sunday has been spent at nearby Beale Park, assisting juniors in preparations for the new season. She will spend the remaining hours of the day helping to ensure the senior Night Series double-header runs smoothly on a humid, autumn evening.
The day, which started at 7.30am, will come to a conclusion sometime around 11.30pm, Lazzaro having spent 16 hours doing what she can for her club.
Her commitment may not be entirely unusual for a hard-working volunteer in club-land, but what separates this mother of two from many of the women involved in the local game is the position she occupies.
For the past eight years, Lazzaro has been president of Cockburn and she remains the only female to occupy such a position at any club in WA football’s top flight.
“The majority of people have been very supportive,” says Lazzaro, who is grateful of the team of volunteers at the club.
“You do get some people who are apprehensive when, as a woman, you say you’re the president of the club but after they meet me, they realise the passion I have not just for the club but for the sport in WA.”
Wedded emotionally to a club that has also been a big part of the lives of her son Jesse, 18, daughter Teneka, 17, and husband Joe for many years, Lazzaro has a geographical connection, too, with the family home almost exactly halfway between the club’s junior and senior grounds.
The convenient location probably ensures she spends more time at the club than she otherwise might. But a far greater motivation for her involvement is the pleasure she gets from watching young players progress from juniors to seniors and achieve their potential.
On this particular Sunday, Lazzaro takes great pleasure in noting ex-Cockburn City junior Scott Galloway has scored for Melbourne Victory. She equates her pride in Galloway’s progress to that of watching the likes of Marianna Tabain and Ella Mastrantonio grow into established Westfield W-League players.
“I think it’s important for kids to be involved in team sport and to be part of the club from a community aspect as well,” Lazzaro says.
“I love watching the kids grow into caring community people and also seeing how they develop in their game.”
Lazzaro helped bring women’s football to Cockburn, she has overseen the installation of new lights at both grounds and has been right behind the club’s foray into the Equal Footingball League. As a teacher’s aide for children with special needs, she has taken particular pleasure in seeing Cockburn kids engaged in the EFL.
She rattles off a string of names covering all aspects of the club from Chris Minutillo (Paralympic player), to Australian youth international Ryan Edwards and many others in between, including current Cockburn players Devon Gibson and Dejan Aleksic.
Reading striker Edwards’ affiliation with the club – he regularly visits Cockburn when he is back in Perth – is typical of the bonds formed between players and the club, Lazzaro says.
But after eight years in the top job, does Lazzaro have much more to give?
“I’ll keep doing this as long as I still love it and I have the passion to see the club grow,” she says.
I am Rozanne hear me Roar - by Michelle Tobin – Brisbane Roar
There are few people in Australia who can boast that they’ve been a part of the Hyundai A-League since day one, but Brisbane Roar’s Community Football Coordinator Rozanne Burley is one of them.
Burley applied to be a volunteer for Roar home matches in 2005 and since then, her position has evolved to one of the busiest and most varied roles within the football club, playing a key part alongside Community Manager Andy Pinches in building the club’s Pauls Roar Active Program across Queensland.
“I feel really lucky to be a part of the community team,” she said.
“The Pauls Roar Active Program has grown from one small team and now we have got dedicated teams of coaches on the north side and south side of Brisbane and we hold an annual trip up the Queensland coast as well.
“We get a lot of children who have never played football before so it’s great when I get phone calls and emails later from parents saying their kids enjoyed it so much – I direct them to their nearest football club. These kids are the next generation of footballers.”
Burley also works as part of the casual events team at the Gabba for cricket and AFL fixtures as well as teaching five gym classes a week. Sport, not just football, has provided Burley with the strong support network and balance she needs in her sometimes hectic life.
Burley’s oldest sons, Daniel, 25, and Michael, 20, both still play football for Southside Eagles and Rochedale Rovers. Her 14-year-old son Adam, suffers from a rare form of epilepsy calledDravet’s Syndrome, which causes uncontrollable seizures and intellectual impairment.
She is his sole carer and also manages to fit in her busy schedule time to actively support the cause of Epilepsy Queensland, the organisation that diagnosed Adam six years ago after years of uncertainty about his condition.
“I’ve always loved sport, and it’s all great because it just keeps me busy. My Adam, his form of epilepsy is quite aggressive and debilitating,” she explained.
“When he was younger, I put my life on hold trying to manage his condition and that’s when I realised I needed to keep myself busy to try and keep my mind off everything that goes on at home with him.
“We see him suffer daily with seizures but this role at the club, working with Andy, Martin [Wilkes] and Marco [Ahlrichs], and the buzz of game day – it just keeps me going.”
Speaking ahead of AFC Women’s Football Day, Burley said she’s has seen the role of women in local football clubs grow over the past 20 years and puts that down to plenty of hard work, the inception of the Westfield W-League and the success of the Roar Women over the years.
“We’re seeing a lot more girls join at an early age, we get clubs approaching us about girls’ only clinics where they can bring a friend to try and help encourage more to join,” Burley said.
“It’s great to see – our W-League team is so successful, lots of them also play for the Matildas, and they are great role models for the young footballers that do the Roar Active Program.”
Popular in local football circles, Burley was also recently recognised as a one of 50 local legends by Jim Chalmers, Queensland MP for Rankin, for her contribution to the Brisbane football community, Epilepsy Queensland and Brisbane Roar Football Club.
The Mother of All Jobs - By Tyson Scott – Central Coast Mariners
Sharon Baxter, the Central Coast Mariners Football Business Manager, has pledged her heart and soul to the Mariners for almost nine years, making her one of the longest serving staff members in the Hyundai A-League. Add that to her 14 years of committee member service with Terrigal Football Club and you can understand why she is a huge part of football on the Central Coast.
A mum to three children: Emily, Ryan & Luke – Sharon also acts as a mother to the Mariners playing squad; she is a prime example of how valuable women are to our game and goes above and beyond her job title on a day to day basis, which goes as far as housing newly arriving players in the spare room of her own home.
‘Shaz’ as she is affectionately known, started her football journey well before the existence of the Mariners. Her commitment to the game began at age 17 when she managed her little sister’s team and raised funds for her to travel to Portugal, Japan and the United States after she was selected in the Australian Futsal team.
Ask any Mariners player past or present and they will all tell you that ‘Shaz’ will do anything for her players: who are more than just ‘players’ to her.
“When a player comes along to the club at first they are just a name on a piece of paper. Then they arrive and you watch these players grow into a part of the Mariners family and that’s what I love most about working in football – we are all one big family even though we have players coming and going. Saying goodbye is the saddest part,” Baxter said.
Beyond the Mariners, since joining Terrigal Football club’s committee ‘Shaz’ admitted that at first she was reluctant to take the presidency role (which she has now held for 8 years) because she assumed it should be a man.
Since taking on the role as president there are now more female committee members at Terrigal then men and she wishes that she had taken the role as president even earlier.
“As a female in football I think I can get away with a little bit more than the men sometimes. At first I thought being a female in football was a disadvantage but I quickly learnt how accepting the football community is to everyone,” Baxter said.