This week marks the third annual Australian Female Football Week which coincides with International Women's Day on the 8th of March.
FFW is an opportunity to promote and celebrate the role women and girls play in football. It is also a chance to encourage discussion regarding gender equality, not only in football but society at large.
Women's football in Australia has taken massive strides in recent years. The Matildas have pressed on to become one of the world's best teams, the popularity of the W-League continues to grow and close to 140,000 females regularly take to the park for a game.
The positivity around the Women's game received a further boost last month when the FFA announced Australia would actively bid for the right to host the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2023.
Head of Community, Football Development and Women's Football at the FFA, Emma Highwood says these are all encouraging steps but points out there is still a long way to go.
"FFA is focused on increasing Female representation in all areas of the game,” said Highwood.
“Our long term goal is focused on 50/50 gender representation in all areas of out game.
“The Female Football Week provides a great platform to increase visibility of the amazing women who are working to grow Football in Australia, and hopefully encourage more Women to get involved,” concluded Highwood.
There are approximately 3,500 women and girls actively participating within Football South Coast. Through implementing coaching and refereeing courses targeted towards women and the formation of a Women's Youth League, FSC hopes to see that figure continue to rise.
This week is the perfect opportunity to shine a light on some of the women involved in the game. Women fill vital roles across all sectors of the game from players, coaches, referees, administrators and passionate supporters. Here are four profiles of women who optimize this within our region.
Belinda Barter - Player for Russell Vale Pink Ladies and Coach for SSFA and FSC
Belinda is a goalkeeper for Russell Vale Pink Ladies, continuing to enjoy a career which began over two and a half decades ago. In the early 1990s, she represented New South Wales as a defender but after the two goalkeepers suffered injuries, the six-foot-tall Barter was asked to don the gloves. She was a natural and earned a call up to the Young Matildas who she represented over a five year period. The highlight of her Australian representative career came in a pre-match game for a men's World Cup qualifier at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Nowadays, as well as playing for the Pink Ladies, Belinda coaches up to five nights per week. Her commitments see her goalkeeper coach for the Sutherland Shire FA Women's who are now in NPL1, run goalkeeper clinics for Football South Coast as well as private training sessions.
Barter reflects on how a number of obstacles prevented her from pursuing a professional career in football and this is what drives her to give back, "Unfortunately, I didn't think I could make a career out of soccer, but now I just want to give back and hopefully help girls who can."
Maria Zouros - Vice-President of Figtree Soccer Club
Football wouldn't get very far without a humble band of tireless volunteers. One lady who exemplifies this is Maria Zouros who juggles her career as an engineer with being vice-president of Figtree Soccer Club - one of the region's biggest football clubs with well over 600 players.
Maria first joined Figtree through her eldest son, Matthew, who registered to play as a five-year-old in 2006. Initially, she was content with simply watching from the sidelines but it wouldn't be long before she offered to help as an assistant registrar and then two years later she became the senior registrar. After holding this position for five years, Maria became the club's vice-president in 2017.
Maria estimates she spends up to 15 hours per week during preseason working for the club, a figure which drops to around 10 hours per week during the season. Despite this, she is reluctant to take any credit, "I'm certainly not the only one, clubs don't operate without a number of volunteers."
While it's a position that has numerous challenges, Maria knows why she does it, "When you see all the kids and they're happy and smiling, you know it's worth it."
"It's important for your kids to see you involved because it's an example of giving back to the community," she concluded.
Tina Siskoska - Player-Coach for Thirroul
Tina Siskoska was asked to lend a hand with Thirroul Women's training in 2017 and she looks back on it as a thoroughly enjoyable experience. This meant when the position as First Grade coach came up, she had no hesitation in applying.
Her application was successful though she still had playing commitments with the Illawarra Stingrays so in an incredible effort to cover both, she would sometimes set Thirroul up for their match before racing off to play her own.
Tina was a foundation player for the Stingrays when they launched in 2006, she spent four seasons there before moving interstate for work but she would return in 2016 to play Reserve Grade.
Before the Stingrays, she represented a number of clubs including Southern Brand, Illawarra Lions and the Wollongong Wolves Starlets.
In her role as head coach of Thirroul, she hopes to strengthen the pathways from junior to senior football. The newly-formed FSC Women's Youth League is a concept Tina thinks will aid in her quest, "It'll really help increase the girls' development and help them eventually make the step up into First Grade."
Tina believes the Illawarra women's divisions are an ideal breeding ground for players to step up to the Stingrays, followed by the W-League and then eventually the Matildas.
Annaliese Phipps - Referee for Football South Coast and Football NSW
Anna Phipps joined Coledale Football Club just under a decade ago as an eight-year-old. Fast forward six years and she was playing a match at Thirroul when she saw a sign that read, "Do you want to referee?" and she thought it would be worth a crack,
From there, Anna's refereeing career has gone from strength to strength. In 2017, she became a senior assistant referee for Football South Coast and her success on a local level has seen her drafted into the Football NSW ranks for the 2018 season.
Over the past week, the Chinese Taipei women's team have been touring in Australia and playing a number of friendly matches against NSL NPL sides. Anna was selected as an assistant referee for the matches against North West Sydney Koalas and the Football NSW Institute. “It was a real honour to be selected,” she said, adding, “it was a great experience to be involved in a match alongside A-League and W-League official Sarah Ho.”
At only 17-years-old, Anna has her whole career ahead of her and she knows exactly where she wants to end up, “I really hope I can make the A-League and W-League, I want to tick those boxes.” Along with the likes of Ho, there are a number of women on the fringes of officiating in the A-League for Anna to look up to including Lara Lee and Katie Patterson.
by Dylan Arvela, on Twitter @dylanarvela