This article was written by Morgan Harding.
Sophia Danielle migrated to Australia from Davao in the Philippines when she was six years old. She already had family in the country who were mad Western Bulldogs supporters and soon, Sophia followed suit, “I watched my first game when I was seven and since then, I just fell in love with it [footy] and have been into it ever since”.
First starting as a Bulldogs supporter, tragedy hit when her beloved Jason Akermanis got dropped from the Dogs, “I just got so mad, as a ten year old, you’re so heartbroken”.
She followed suit and dropped the Bulldogs in pursuit of another team to call her own. She floated the idea of Geelong and St Kilda due to her love of Nick Riewoldt and then promptly found out he had a cousin… Jack.
Sophia strapped on the black and yellow and she was set, “I kind of got into it and I fell in love with Jack, little 11 year old me, basically started going for Richmond because of Jack”, Sophia admitted with a chuckle.
Footy is a massive part of Australian culture and helped ease Sophia’s journey through the great southern land. It helped her fit in and relate to people.
“At school players would come in and everyone would get involved. It’s just so awesome and helped me find my place in this country.
“In grade five or six, my best friend and I both went for Richmond and we talked about that and that’s how we bonded.
“It’s such a conversation starter, it helps you meet people and have something to talk about straight up. It’s always straight away, ‘oh who do you go for?’”
Sophia has always wanted to play but back in her early years it was such a massive thing, with men and boys playing, it was hard to find a side who would give her an opportunity.
“It’s just such a stereotype”, she said, “they boys played footy and the girls played netball. I played netball for years but that’s all I really got involved in”.
The AFLW launched and Sophia was head over heels for the game, she said, “the past few years I’ve just been so into footy, especially the AFLW, it’s kind of blown up and it’s really inspiring to see all these other females around me playing what they love.”
Sophia knew she wanted to play and she wanted to get things started as soon as possible, but due to year 12 stresses and commitments, she could not, so she made a pact with a friend.
“My friend and I basically said, next year, we’re just doing it. No excuses”, and did it they did.
The two contacted the club president of Burnside Heights Football Club and got the times and locations of training sessions.
The first training session was in a gym, not exactly what Sophia was expecting, “it was a massive training circuit and our trainer was tough”, she said, “the women were so nice and welcoming though and it made you feel good and want to work as hard as you possibly could.”
The team then moved on to basic field skills, which was extremely helpful to Sophia, and made everything all the more enjoyable.
Sophia has noticed the most improvement within her kicking,
“It’s actually so hard to get a hang of it, particularly the spin and kicking [the ball] far. Some of the girls concentrate on me and ended up staying back late to help me with my kicking which was so sweet and incredibly helpful”.
The Burnside Heights women’s team is brand new and it naturally follows that so are most of the girls playing, “it doesn’t matter though if you’ve played for years or if you’ve just started, we’re all here to play the game we love and learn more”, she said.
“I play everywhere, I like playing midfield and being on the ball but we all like to switch it up”, Sophia said, a good tactic for new players to pick up the flows of the game whilst also promoting enjoyment.
The team also has a slogan that helps game play.
“We call things 1 percenters, which are small things you do in a game to help it move and flow nicely. Things like shepherding and doing basic things like that. It gets to a point where you just do them and you don’t think about it, I think that’s really important in the game, to allow and trust your teammates to get it right”, Sophia explained.
Teamwork and the relationships you make is significant for Sophia, “all the girls are so close and so encouraging. We send paragraphs on how well we did and how proud we are of each other. We send really positive messages and it’s just so nice to read”, she said. “it’s so good to be part of something that’s so good and positive.”
Sophia wears number eight on her jersey to pay homage to Jack Riewoldt, “he’s a big inspiration, I do it for him”, she chucked, “he liked my photo on Instragram and I cried.”
For Sophia, footy is a huge part of her life and it’s so important for her to be a part of it, in every way she can.
The positivity from this woman is infectious, her love of the game obvious and her inspiration to others oozing.