With professional opportunities thin on the ground, girls and women chasing dreams of playing football for New Zealand tend to develop more skills than running, passing and shooting to make ends meet.
Midfielder Malia Steinmetz has learnt the ins and outs of plumbing supplies, knows her way around a warehouse and worked as a cashier at a grocery while building her international career with New Zealand’s “Football Ferns”.
Steinmetz and her team mates will be thrust into the global spotlight at the July 20-August 20 Women’s World Cup co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia.
But once their tournament is over, many will return to jobs and real-life concerns about how to pay the rent while playing their sport.
“It’s kind of hard to be living off it,” Steinmetz said.
“Most of the others (team mates) have jobs and have to run off to them after morning training.”
The 24-year-old plays for Western Sydney Wanderers in A-League Women, Australia’s top tier competition where players will earn a minimum wage of A$25,000 ($17,000) next season, up from A$20,608 in the recently completed one.
Minimum wage players in A-League Men earn an equivalent hourly rate but can make more than double the women’s pay due to more playing time.
Steinmetz jokes she has become a customer service expert from her experience in odd jobs and might eventually become a “tradie” - the local slang for workers in trades such as plumbing and building.
Ultimately, she hopes to wring as much out of her footballing career as possible.
She also hopes the World Cup might give a boost to other aspiring players in a country famously obsessed with rugby but boasting only one professional football team.
“I just hope it puts (football) on the map a bit more for the young girls coming through - just seeing the opportunities as a career and that there is so much you can do with it,” she said.
Steinmetz is upbeat about the direction of the game, having seen the bumper crowds at the Women’s Champions League and last year’s European Women’s Championship.
A few years ago, though, the former New Zealand under-20 captain dropped out of the sport to study during a doubtful phase.
Apart from learning ancient history, archaeology and anthropology at university, Steinmetz realised how much she missed football during her six months out.
“(The break) made me realise that nine-to-five really sucks and I’d rather be rushing around a football pitch – and do it for as long as I can,” she said.
The World Cup will offer a shop window for players like Steinmetz who naturally yearn for bigger stages than A-League Women, where a healthy match-day crowd is a few thousand fans.
It may be a tight window for the Ferns, who are ranked 25th in the world and are on a 10-match winless streak.
Drawn in Group A with Norway, Switzerland and the Philippines, just making the knockout rounds would be something of a triumph for the co-hosts.
Regardless of the Ferns’ results, the tournament should still leave a big mark on the women’s game in New Zealand, Steinmetz said.
“I think this World Cup’s going to be well watched and sponsors will want to be involved more after seeing it,” she added.
“Hopefully it’s going to be a huge moment for women’s football.”
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