Courtney Wakefield is a mum of two and a farmer. She lives in south-west NSW on a 109,000 acre sheep property. She’s also a Richmond footballer.
“The distance between my husband, kids and city life can be challenging at the best of times,” she says.
“I travel back and forth for a bit, then once pre-season starts I shift down to Melbourne, and once my eldest finishes school commitments she moves down and my hubby stays at the farm.”
For players such as Wakefield, there will always be a juggle between family, lifestyle and football. But Wakefield says it’s only a matter of time before others become full-time athletes.
“Obviously, I won’t be around to experience footy full-time but the young girls that are just starting out, it’s within their reach and when it does happen it’s going to be really exciting for them.”
Distance is also the main struggle for North Melbourne’s Grace Campbell, who like Wakefield travels between work and football while she works as a critical care nurse in Bendigo.
Western Bulldog Nell Morris-Dalton says: “juggling being a part-time athlete and having another profession on top of that is just so exhausting,” as the 20-year-old recently completed her 800 hours of placement work under COVID-19 protocols to become a registered nurse.
The 20-year-old starts full-time at the Royal Melbourne Hospital next year.
As it stands, AFLW player salaries operate on a tiered system with the highest salary in season 2022 set at $37,155.
There are two tier one players per club and the bulk sit in tier four, earning $20,239.
Some, such as school teacher and Collingwood skipper Steph Chiocci, take leave from their day jobs to fulfil the demands of the AFLW season (term one). But the option for athletes to do this year round, to afford them a more extensive pre-season, more sponsorship opportunities, comprehensive training plans and growth opportunities is not yet feasible.
As the competition emerges from its infancy, it continues as an indomitable force in the Australian sports tapestry, and when the competition commences on January 7, so will the weight of expectations on players to give their all to a game that can’t yet give them the same in return.
St Kilda defender and Victoria Police constable Bianca Jakobsson stepped away from the game in early 2020 to complete her academy training, with the caveat that she could be hanging up the boots forever to pursue her policing role.
“It’s really difficult to manage both a full-time job and part-time footy, it’s getting more and more difficult with games increasing each year.”
The former Demon and Blue did return to footy, joining St Kilda in 2021, now part of their 2022 leadership group, but it’s a game of Tetris to manage it all.
“It’s a really big challenge for a lot of the girls. I’m just really excited for when the girls can be full time and put their whole day into being a good athlete.”
AFLW club memberships recently hit record numbers and participation rates of women and girls in community football swells year-on-year.
For the women at the top, devoid of an alternative, they’ll continue to pioneer what they hope will become a full-time career option, knowing they’ll likely never reap the rewards of their own sacrifice.
The AFL recently released a “women’s football vision,” committing to become the highest paid female Australian code by 2030, but the question remains whether it will be enough to transition players from semi-professional athletes in eight years.
Western Bulldog Celine Moody says her job is “a fancy way of saying I work in IT” as an information technician in the Australian Army.
She spends her days setting up and maintaining the defence network when the army is deployed as well as in-house working on maintaining the army systems and servers, then heads to Whitten Oval.
“I started playing football at under-11 and was the only girl in the league, so one season was enough of that.
“I joined the army only a couple of months before the inaugural AFL women’s draft, so as soon as I got the opportunity to play civilian sport, as we call it in defence, I grabbed it with both hands.
“I don’t know if the full-time option is in my time, but just to think back to when I was the only girl running around in my league to where it is now, young girls having that pathway from Auskick through to AFLW, it’s come such a long way already. Whether it’s in five or 15 years, I think it will get there. Just not sure if I’ll be around. I hope I am.”
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