Mary’s Wonder Women: Michelle Heyman and Ann Odong

This article was first written for and published by The Roar.

There are many women in football, but only one has been described to me as a ‘non-stop smile’. That footballer is Michelle Heyman.

On Sunday, Michelle played her 100th W-League game for Canberra United and the team celebrated with a 2-0 win over the Western Sydney Wanderers.

Michelle is one of my favourite characters in football. Not only is she an exceptional talent on the field, but off the field she is passionate about encouraging people to be themselves and is an LGBTIQ ambassador.

Michelle has played one season with Sydney FC, then a season with the Central Coast Mariners, before making the move to the nation’s capital in 2010.

It’s incredible it has taken Michelle this long to reach the milestone, despite playing in the W-League for over a decade. Plenty of reasons contribute to this (including injury) but the main one is that over the last ten years, there have been limited changes to scheduling and length of season.

The W-League season has grown from just ten to 12 home-and-away games over the summer.

This is something plenty of you may find staggering, particularly considering the focus on the Matildas at the moment and their success in 2017 – including their win at the Tournament of Nations and Sam Kerr taking over the world.

Sam Kerr Matildas Australian Football 2017

Photo by Zak Kaczmarek/Getty Images

Imagine what the Matildas could do with a national competition that was longer and more lucrative for the players involved?

Plenty has changed for women’s football during the decade that Michelle has been involved – most notably in terms of making the sport more professional.

Despite improvements, many players still head overseas during the off-season to support themselves in playing football all-year round.

One of the most significant announcements of all came earlier this year, with a record pay-deal being announced. This pay deal guaranteed $10,000 minimum player contracts for the season, saw an improvement in minimum medical standards, a new maternity policy, football and non-football income protection for injured players, an increase in the length of contracts – with the ability for players to sign multi-year deals – access to the PFA Player Development Program, and the provision of football boots and runners.

For many female footballers, this meant their average wage doubled this season. This new Collective Bargaining Agreement meant that the average wage for a W-League player is now $15,500 and will rise to $17,400 per season next year. The salary cap for the competition has also increased to $300,000 to pay these increased wages.

Progress is being made.

Hopefully we are fortunate enough to have Michelle as part of the W-League for the next decade too. In that time, I am not only confident that she will continue to advocate the importance of people being themselves, but that we will see plenty more changes to a women’s sport which Australia is getting excited about.

Congratulations on a phenomenal milestone, Michelle.

Michelle Heyman of the Matildas

AP Photo/Arisson Marinho

The women’s game
One of my favourite things about sport is that it is about so much more than what happens on the field.

Sport is a family and encompasses so many people – from the athletes who compete, to the officials, to the fans, the governing bodies and volunteers. Sport is a breathing organism and for it to be as successful as it can be, each of these parts need to work collaboratively together.

Another extremely important part of the sporting family is the media and this week I want to celebrate one very special woman who, as part of the media and in her role as an advocate, has become such an important part of the Australian football family.

That woman is Ann Odong.

Ann started the popular media organisation The Women’s Game due to the lack of information about women’s football ten years ago.

The Women’s Game started as a website which was born out of Ann’s bedroom on an old school Macbook computer and has now grown into a thriving organisation with a team of many volunteers that actively promote, support and cover’s women’s football in Australia.

It was announced last week that Ann is stepping away after nine and a half years with the Women’s Game and that Cheryl Downes and Angela Bacic will be the new joint Editors-in-Chief of the website.

In the time that Ann has been involved, the Women’s Game has covered (among other things) all ten seasons of the W-League, the 2010 and 2014 Asian Cup, the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the 2017 Algarve Cup, all Matildas internationals from 2008-17 and plenty of AFC youth tournaments for the Young and Junior Matildas.

I want to congratulate and thank Ann for her fearless work to celebrate women’s football. Ann has travelled all over the world because of her love of football and the media landscape is warmer, kinder and more knowledgeable because of her work.

She is someone I look up to and am remarkably lucky to call a friend.

Ann, thank you for your contribution to women’s sport in this country. I wish you all the best for your next adventure.