FAR from being paid to represent Australia, back when Graftonian Jo Powell donned the green and gold between 1996 until 2000, she had to pay her own way.
Powell, now 36, and living in South Grafton, said she had made the Olympic sign-on squad of 24 in 2000 but the AIS only had funding to house 20 squad members.
“We'd train for five-and-a-half days per week and then I'd have to go off to work to pay the rent,” she said. “Then we had to go off to Canberra so I was expected to keep two leases while training and working.”
In the end, it was a financial decision for Jo to leave the Matildas in 2000 before the Beijing Olympics.
But it wasn't before she had the chance to represent Australia.
“I got to play against Canada, I think we tied that game,” she said. “And I also had a couple of games against Japan – we beat Japan.”
At the time women were getting $60,000 per year to play in the Japanese professional league and two of the Matildas were playing in Japan, while Australia didn't have a professional league.
Though players are now paid in the national W League, the competition doesn't boast the dollars on offer in Japan or the US.
“I used to play in exactly the same type of comp when I moved to Newcastle and we had to pay our own way ... because I was in the national team as well, it probably cost me close to $3000 in a season just to play with all the travel.
“Having said that our standard of soccer was and still is probably on par with their (USA's and Japan's) professional league – certainly at state league and national league level.
“But the game has changed phenomenally since I played, the level of playing has improved and it certainly gets more respect.
“To make a comparison, back then if you said you'd played for the Australian national team people would say ‘do we have one?', now Matildas is a household name.”
Powell is now playing for the South Services Gunners Third Grade Men's team in order to play with her elder brother Chris in what he has touted as his final soccer season.
“Despite us arguing, we do enjoy playing together,” Powell laughed. “He was probably the reason I started playing soccer – I used to tag along to his soccer all the time and he would get annoyed.
“He was my inspiration, definitely.”
Locally, Powell has played for the Gunners, Westlawn, Tucabia and Corindi.
In the state league she played for Northern NSW – equivalent to Newcastle these days.
Since leaving the Matildas, Powell snapped a cruciate ligament in men's soccer in Grafton in 2001 and spent a couple of seasons playing local women's soccer to rebuild her strength after an operation and a long recovery period.
Having played in the backs all her life, defending is Powell's preferred position, but that doesn't mean she won't strike.
“Everybody wants to be a hero – I've scored a few goals in my time,” she said. “You get more space if you start at the back.”
Powell agreed with the national selectors' youth strategy .
“They always used to hold on to the old ones forever and ever and would then throw the young ones in the deep end,” she said.
“When I was running around, Lisa Casagrande (originally from Lismore) was the ‘be all and end all' at 14 at that point and they threw her in and I think she finished playing very young because she'd had so many injuries.
“She was probably one of the youngest they ever had playing for them, I'd imagine.
“Given our current status and our performance in recent tournaments I think we'll go quite well.
“It depends how the nerves go for the young girls – if they can settle into the first game (against Brazil) they'll be fine.
Reflecting on her representative days, Powell said the experience was quite surreal.
“The biggest thing I remember, probably for me is the national anthem for your country ...when you stand up there.
“There's so much pride in pulling on the green and gold jersey and just knowing that you're out there, not just playing for yourself, but playing for your country.
“I don't know if it happens for everybody, but for me it (the national anthem) lifts me and just inspires me that little bit more.
“I take it for granted probably at times, but it's not something everyone gets to do.”
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