Canberra has a proud history in women’s football and it all began in 1978.
Canberra’s first female football club, the ANU Women’s Soccer Club, was brewed over a few quiet beers at the pub between pioneers of the game; Heather Reid, Clare McGrath, Steph Quinn, June Andersen, Andrea Hotchkiss and Cass Hampton.
Heather Reid went on to become the first female CEO of Capital Football, playing an instrumental role in Canberra United’s creation.
In 2008, she worked hard to obtain the licence for Canberra United to be part of the W-League, recruiting several Matildas internationals including Caitlin Munoz, Lydia Williams, Rhian Davies, Hayley Crawford and Thea Slatyer.
The side immediately made an impact, reaching finals football in their first four seasons, going undefeated in 2011/12, claiming two Championships, three Premierships and propelling several players onto the national and international stage.
As Australia celebrates 100 years since the first public game of women’s football was played, Canberra United spoke with former Matilda and Canberra United striker Caitlin Munoz and current CU midfielder Grace Maher.
Q- Which female footballers did you look up to when you were growing up?
Caitlin Munoz: There are a few players that I looked up to and I was lucky enough have played alongside them for years. I can't go past Julie Murray, she was one if not the best striker Australia had when I was growing up. I didn't get to play with her but as a young striker watching her was amazing. Two players I was lucky enough to play alongside were Amy Wilson and Peita Clare Hepperlin. They were both representing Australia at the time and getting to train and play with those two I learnt a lot about not just being a footballer but how to be a good person on and off the field. We developed a good relationship and that has carried over to our lives outside of football which is something I am grateful for and special to me.
Grace Maher: Being only 22 I wasn’t around for a lot of the early trailblazers who broke social norms to play the sport. But I’ve been lucky to meet and be surrounded by a Canberra United trailblazer in Heather Reid. Her persistence and bravery to fight for Canberra United, signing world class players and ensuring women footballers were heard has played a huge role in women’s football. Moya Dodd is also someone I look up to, a former Matilda and current Lawyer who is strong, intelligent and passionate about football. She was a trailblazer in pushing a reform for women to be included in the decision making of football and now because of her it is mandatory that women get a say.
Q- What does it mean to you to be part of such a rich history of impressive female footballers in Canberra and Australia?
Caitlin: I am extremely lucky to have been a part of Canberra United and in that era. The 2011/12 season was one of my favourite times playing EVER. Not just because we won but the team we had and the feeling of family amongst the whole club was unbelievable and something that is hard to come by.
Representing Australia and being part of the history is something that not every player gets to experience, and I have many memories and I formed some great friendships from my time with the Matildas. The players before my time really helped get the game to where it is now its only going to keep growing and growing and that's due to all the previous players who put in the hard work to play the game that we all love.
Grace: I’m extremely proud to be part of such an impressive history filled with such strong women. There have been some trailblazers who have allowed football to be such a big part of our lives. Even more proud to represent Canberra which has always led the way for girls to aspire to play for Canberra United.
The experience at the AFC Pilot Tournament was incredible as I look back on the fact I got to travel and play against Asia’s best with my own club team. The pilot tournament was a stepping stone to what would be a huge advantage for the Asian confederation to improve national leagues. I only hope that the competition grows and allows more teams to compete.
Q- Have you seen conditions improve for female footballers in recent years, in terms of pay, professionalism, media coverage and overall popularity?
Caitlin: Wow, yes! Even from when I was playing to what the players are now getting it is completely different. Like everything in life, things grow and improve so it's great to see players that can make a living playing Football and travel the world doing that. The coverage that the Matildas are getting is brilliant and it's a credit to past and present players and the results they get in tournaments and how much the country just love the Matildas. If only I was 10 years younger....
Q – Grace, you were part of the PFA negotiations to secure minimum wage for W-League players. How big is this deal for current and future players?
Grace: Having long term security around a minimum wage is a fantastic step in bridging a very large gap seen in men’s and women’s football. The minimum is fantastic to set the benchmark especially for young women making the step up to professional football. What I believe is even more exciting is the growth that we are going to see within these next five years in which our top women can start to live the dream of being a professional full time footballer.
What is your dream for the future of women’s football in Australia?
Grace: My dream for the W-League: As a bright, young, exciting 17-year-old signs her first ever professional contract in the W-League. It is a three year contract, paid for 52 weeks of the year. She turns up on her first day at the club’s facilities, straight in to breakfast before a 10am training on private fields. Then lunch and gym to finish off her day. In the last year of her contract, she attracts an overseas club. The club buys her for $200,000 and so she journeys overseas and that money is used by the club to bring in world class players and develop the next Matilda.