The investment and interest from traditionally male organizations have been both welcome and needed in the women’s game. However, at all levels of the sport, independent women’s clubs are forming, growing, and offering something different.
Following in the footsteps of those who founded teams in 1921 and the 1970s, these clubs face unique challenges but also valuable benefits.
These clubs, with women’s teams and no male-affiliated teams, were grown by talent, commitment, and the desire for self-determination.
In part one, we looked at local Canberra and international women-only clubs. In part two, we look at two of Victoria’s teams, Calder United and Geelong Galaxy.
“We’re seeing the results of running a high-quality football program.”
Founded in 2016, Calder United plays in in the NPLW. The clubs regularly attract W-League players each season and before the season was abruptly ended, were on a five-game winning streak.
They sit alongside Bayside and Alamein in the NPLW and regularly compete with historic giants such as South Melbourne and Bulleen.
“They’re a big club with lots of different arms that cross over and support one another,” Says president Amanda Stella.
“We don’t have that [ability to cross over] which is a growing concern. But you can only do what you can do.”
The club shares facilities with Keilor Park, they support five state league teams, with three junior and Miniroo’s teams.
“We run solely on registration and sponsorship. Because we share our facilities… We don’t have our own bar, restaurant.
“So we pretty much get by on our registration, the continual support of our major sponsor Red Energy and the good local families that sponsor the club.”
Despite their limitations, creating and maintaining a pathway for young girl’s to become elite footballers is something Calder and Stella are passionate about.
Manager Mark Torcaso has been at the club since the beginning, Stella credits him for his support and development of players.
“We’re at a situation now where we’ve had some of our 19’s players elevated to the senior team,” she says proudly.
“We’ve had some W-league players every year that create that elite feel for the girls.
“This will work towards creating that pathway from young Miniroos to future W-League players all within the one family.
“Instead of the jagged effect of playing junior football somewhere with boys and then having to go a girls club but then that girls club doesn’t have the level of players and then you have to go to an NPL club and go from there to a W-League team.”
In a sporting landscape where men’s sport is still seen by many as the default, clubs like Calder United exist to promote and improve the women’s game, particularly for girls.
“A lot of girls 10 years ago couldn’t play in girls teams as juniors. I think that is where that feeling of the game not being all about them stems from, and the expectation was to just fit in with the boy’s teams where there was room.
“Having a club that only had girls teams…They’re the priority, they’re the number one and that’s why we do what we do.”
“Training opportunities for young girls to grow and develop in a female environment is something that’s been proven to develop that perfect elite all-rounded athlete,” says Stella.
Geelong Galaxy, in the VPLW, operates under the same principle. Club Secretary Marina Krasic says that focus helps recruitment of promising youngsters.
“There’s a very heavy focus on the female program and development, we have no men’s program,” she says of her club.
“I think it helps for sure because they know there is a higher focus on them and they know they are supported as players.”
Galaxy has maintained its commitment to growing the game. Their program has provided four players to the National Training Centre, something the club takes pride in.
“I think that’s a pretty good reflection of the club,” says Krasic. “We’re seeing the results of running a high-quality football program.
“The clubs with a high profile, their focus has always been on the senior men’s team, those clubs have boys and girls.
“One of the things that we are able to do is attract more female participants like coaches and our committee is three-quarters female.”
Galaxy also relies heavily on sponsors’ recent improvements means that they can offer allowances to senior players to cover expenses.
“No female was going to be disadvantaged financially,” says Krasic of their setup.
Up the highway at Calder, Amanda Stella says the secret is in the values of the club.
“It comes from our culture. We’ve always been fortunate enough to attract some good players and that comes from being successful… we’ve been lucky enough to do that from the start.
“We do it well, we’re a great family-based, work hard, everybody’s an equal type of club.
“That’s the vision, to try and get as many talented, passionate girls from the west at our club.”
Both Geelong and Calder United are justifiably proud of their achievements and neither is standing still.
“Moving created more opportunity”
After initially being based down on the coast, Geelong Galaxy has moved its base to the northern end of Geelong. They are now more than half an hour closer to Melbourne and importantly, the players have their own female-only change rooms.
Krasic is experienced in community football and recalls an incident elsewhere where a girl’s team returned from training to find a senior men’s side having a meeting in the change rooms. At Galaxy, especially at their new home, it is not an issue.
“Moving created more opportunity and more exposure as well. We got higher attendances… the facilities at Stead Park are brand new, with access to 4 full-sized, fully flood-lit grounds and two female change rooms”
The other thing that people do enjoy is that even on the match day, it’s not as hostile, the crowds are more subdued and not as aggressive.
“There is a higher volume of pets, lower take at the bar, more family-friendly. From a spectator perspective, people spoke about what a great environment it was.
“It definitely opened up the opportunity to pick up players and coaches from the western side of Melbourne, further north to Ballarat as well as the greater Geelong region.”
This was essential to the club’s on-field survival. A league re-structure forced them down from the NPLW to a newly created division despite not finishing in the bottom two sides.
Krasic laments that the decision was made without enough input or discussion. She estimates that it cost them up to eight senior starting players.
As an independent club, with only their own concerns on the agenda, they were able to make the decision to move bases swiftly to increase their capabilities and prospects as they plan a return to the NPLW.
The club has begun increasing its social media presence and live streaming matches on Facebook. This was a necessary action, as the VPLW is significantly less visible.
“We can give our girls a bit more opportunity.”
Calder’s mission to improve pathways and provide development for women’s football has resulted in a partnership with Western United.
Although Calder remains independent and maintains control over their decisions, the link to the A-League club is a hugely positive step for the club.
The long-term aim will be to create a clear, predictable pathway for players to grow from juniors to the W-League and hopefully become Matildas.
With Western United due to enter the national competition in 2022, things look promising.
“We’ve gone out there and worked hard and created a partnership with W.U so we have some more resources,” says Amanda Stella
“We have some more options, we can give our girls a bit more opportunity, and we can give them the experiences. We’ve played some games before the men’s, we’ve gone to Launceston, walked the streets, and kicked the ball with the A-league players.
“There are some instances that don’t normally happen for the girls and we’ve been able to do that.
“W.U, they’re an amazing bunch of people who want to make a difference…they’re ready to go and give further options for girls.”
The increase in available resources is something that will greatly benefit Calder United and the western suburbs.
For a club with men and women’s sides, staff like coaches, strength and condition experts, and physiotherapists can be spread across the entire organization. The larger the setup, the more hours can be provided and the more attractive it is to specialists.
“We’re asking someone, “can you give us three hours a week?” says Stella as a comparison.
Now that they are linked to an incoming W-League club, Calder can look toward a future where they can focus on the growth of the game.
Geelong Galaxy is working towards getting back to the top level and will continue to develop young players from the state’s second-largest city.
In a rapidly changing and competitive world, women’s only clubs are working hard to provide opportunities for women players.
As 2023 approaches, “legacy” is an increasingly important idea in football. Across Australia, there are clubs that have been building it for years.
Image Credit: Calder United and Western United