Episode 3: Sue
You’re listening to This Girl Can – real stories from real women celebrating getting active in all different kinds of ways.
This series was recorded during the coronavirus pandemic in Australia when the women that you’re hearing from were at home either with their families or on their own. All the interviews were done over the phone. We hope that these stories inspire you to feel good and get active in your own way.
Hi, my name is Sue. I am 55 years of age and I work as a nurse at a GP clinic.
I’ve always loved football. I can remember my Dad teaching me how to kick a footy. And I probably would have been maybe 6 years old. And he’d played football when he was younger. So he loved his footy. And I can remember kicking the footy with Dad when I was quite young. And then at primary school, I was one of those girls who was always out on the footy oval at lunchtime and recess, kicking the footy with boys. And same at high school – always out on the football oval kicking the footy with the boys.
But it never really occurred to me that I could play because I grew up in the country. And girls just didn’t play football in the country. And this was back in the 70s, high school, so late 70s, early 80s. And at primary school we were told at one stage by the principal that the girls weren’t allowed to kick the football at lunchtime. And I went, “No, I’m kicking the footy”. But it never occurred to me that I could actually play in the team with boys. I always just played netball because girls played netball.
Well, I must have been about 13 or 14, playing netball for a country town. The boys were playing footy and I would always kick the ball with the boys during the seniors’ games. I’d go out on the oval at half-time and quarter-time and kick the footy.
And I can remember them saying to me: “You should play footy with us”. And I was like: “Oh, that’d be really cool. And at the time, my Dad was President of the football club. And I said: “Hey, Dad, the boys want me to play footy. Can I play footy?” And he just looked at me and went: “No. You’re a girl. Girls don’t play football”. And I can remember being absolutely crushed and going, “But the boys want me to play. They reckon I’m as good as them. They reckon I can play.” And he went: “No, no, sorry you can’t play.” I was quite devastated. And even my Dad remembers that to this day. It didn’t occur to me again that perhaps I could play football.
After I’d had my second child – an early primary and a newborn – you kind of get lost and you forget about ‘you’ and it becomes all about the kids and getting them organised and doing the best for them and making sure that they are doing all their activities and they’re learning and growing. And you get lost a bit in all of that. So it probably wasn’t until my son was well into primary school that I remembered that I actually liked to do things, too, and I made a concerted effort to get involved in something. And at that time, it was belly dancing!
Well, I’ve always loved being active, obviously, and I can remember doing dance classes when I was a kid and a girlfriend had started doing belly dance classes and was really enjoying it. And I thought, “That would be awesome”. And she said “Come on and join in my class” and I thought “No, I don’t know anything.” So I went and did the beginners’ class at the same dancing school that she was going to and loved it. Hooked!
I still – when I’m not playing football, so in off football season – will do belly dancing classes.
Never being able to play when I was younger did not diminish my enjoyment of football and my enjoyment of going out and kicking the footy with boys. Because back in those days, especially in the country, there were no women playing football. So there was no one that I could go: “I want to be like her”. There were no role models around, especially in the country.
So when the AFLW started, I went to the first match with a girlfriend and her husband, and that was amazing!
[Enthusiastic football commentator and music] So the moment that generations of women footballers have dreamt about finally arrived. And to all who have dreamt this dream, we salute you. It’s a new era in our great game. Welcome to AFL Women’s!
The stands were full and when they ran out onto the ground, I thought I was going to cry. It was so emotional. I so wished that I was their age because that would just be amazing to play footy.
[Enthusiastic football commentator and music] So a chance for Jakobsson to put the exclamation point on an impressive performance for the Blues.
So that was before I started playing.
Watching the girls go out onto the ground, I wished I was born now because this is what I’d love to do or I wish this had been around when I was in my late teens, because I really would have strived to be able to play football at that level. You know, back when I was young and fit and enjoyed running! To be able to have that choice, to be able to do that. I think the girls these days are so lucky, even though it still can be a bit of an uphill battle, they are just so lucky that they have that choice.
[Enthusiastic football commentator and siren] It’s the Blues at home, with the opening score of four points!
Several times over the years it has occurred to me that perhaps I could play football. But I’ve never been in the right place at the right time to be able to play until I was 53.
So back to the start of 2018, there was an article in The Age and someone was trying to get together a Women’s Masters Football League, and develop half a dozen teams so that there could be a women’s Masters competition. And the article talked about being over 30. You didn’t have to have played before. Just want to play, basically. I thought, This is my chance. I’m 53. If I don’t do this now, I will never, ever get the opportunity again and I’ll regret it. So I made a phone call and at the time I was the first person to ring and I spoke to someone at the club, which I now belong to, and he said…
[Male voiceover] Oh look actually you’re the first person to ring so I’ll take your name and number and get back to you.
I got off the phone and thought, But I really want to play footy and I felt a bit deflated thinking, Oh, I don’t know if this is going to happen, but I got a phone call maybe 2 weeks later saying, Hey, we’ve had a few more people interested.
There was a come-and-try day. It was on a Sunday morning in Coburg. So that’s an hour away from where I live. I drove all the way over to Coburg on my own, didn’t know anybody else. And I got to the car park and the anxiety levels rose and I had this voice inside my head going: You can’t do this. You’re too old. You’re too fat. You’re too unfit. You can’t do it. And I had to tell that voice in my head to stop. I saw a couple of other women walking in and I though, right, just get out of the car and go and do it.
So I got out, went in. It was at 9.30 in the morning, 10 o’clock in the morning. And I just went and didn’t tell anybody at home where I went. Didn’t tell my husband, didn’t tell my kids, and just went. I got home at about 12 o’clock and nobody even asked where I’d been. And I was busting to say what I’d been doing because I’d had a ball!
I think that voice in my head is perhaps when I get a bit anxious and I’m not sure about things, about whether I can be successful at something or not. And it can hold me back. But I’ve learnt, as I’ve matured and got older, I’ve learnt to go, No, if I want to do something, I can actually do it. I just have to push past that initial part where some part of my brain is saying, You cannot do that.
I’ve found the same thing joining a gym. I decided that I wanted to join the gym and walking up saying: Oh, they’re going to think you’re too fat. They’re going to think you’re too old. You can’t do this. And I have to say, Stop! And once I make myself go and do whatever it is that I want to do, I’m fine. Just that initial anxiety does it. And sometimes a lack of confidence as well.
I’ve got some really good close friends that I’ve made over the last few years in football. We spend time outside of football together and go out for dinners and everything. So making new friends in your 50s, 60s, 40s can be hard, especially once your kids have finished school. When your kids are at school you tend to socialise a lot with the other parents and the other mums. You have your friends that you went to high school with or whatever that you see every now and then. But that ability to make new friendships and develop new bonds as you are getting older is really good. And that’s where I think team sports or anything where there’s other people involved is really important for your mental health.
As I’ve got older, I’ve reverted to what I was like as a teenager – not emotionally – but as a teenager when I was young, free, had no other responsibilities. My love and passion was playing sport, whether it be part of a team or swimming. I played every sport under the sun. So once my children got older and weren’t reliant as much on me, especially once they got their licenses and definitely weren’t reliant on me anymore, I’ve reverted back to what I was as a teenager and I get so much joy out of playing sport. Being active. Being around other people. It sometimes can take that push to realise that people can survive without you, for an hour or two. And that going and doing something for yourself makes you feel better about yourself. And that in turn makes you a better parent.
So my message is that it’s never too late to try something new. It’s never too late to get active and try something that’s physically active. As I’ve probably said a few times, I don’t like running and lot of football is running, but I will run with purpose, so I’ll run within a football game or at training. But lately because we haven’t been able to train, I’ve taken the ball to the park. I can’t run, but I’ll walk with purpose to go and get the ball. So never think that you’re too old. Maybe when you’re 90, you might be too old to play football. But you know, when you’re 90, I’m sure there’s something else that you can do.
So it’s never too late to get up, get active and have fun.
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This episode was produced by Dewi Cooke and edited by Nick King. Thanks for listening.