The Big Issue's All-Women Soccer All-Stars

7 March 2018 Street Soccer

The Big Issue's All-Women Soccer All-Stars

This is Debi.

She had never heard of soccer until her late 50s.

Now she's a regular participant at the women's-only stream of our Community Street Soccer Program in North Melbourne.

Last year she even won the team 'best and fairest' award.

"I'm definitely not the fastest, some of the young girls are much faster than me,' Debi says, "But every week I give it my best shot. I'm consistent."

Every Thursday afternoon at North Melbourne Community Centre, around 15 women who come from different walks of life – but have all faced disadvantage and hardship – are brought together by soccer.

The Big Issue has been running the women's street soccer program for more than 10 years. While part of the broader Community Street Soccer Program, it's the only all-women's team in the country.

The program supports women who are marginalised or disadvantaged, many of whom have experienced homelessness, domestic violence, addiction and mental illness.

Getting active and being part of a team gives women hope and a sense of belonging.

Debi is one of the inspiring women on the team. She joined 18 months ago after growing tired of being told to 'slow down' in her over-50s walking soccer group.

"My first day was a round robin tournament. It made me nervous, I'd only done walking soccer then, so I thought, 'Oh God it's different,'" she says.

"I was really slow when I first came, but then a girl who hadn't been here for a year saw me and said, 'God you can run fast now'. So I've come a long way."

Debi was given the 'best and fairest' award at the women's street soccer Christmas party last year by coaches Jill and Bree.

"I was surprised, I was in shock," Debi says. "But it gave me some confidence. It took me a long time to learn, I was no natural. I used to often go home sad because I liked playing it, but I thought, 'I'm just so hopeless'. Although people tell me a year to play soccer isn't a bad effort.

Debi, who has settled into the position of defender, says street soccer has had an immensely positive impact on her life.

"I've had quite a difficult life, no one would have every believed I would have ended up playing soccer at 60. I was a very heavy drinker in my earlier years. And I have some mental health issues too. I have mild schizophrenia and depression, so there were a lot of overdoses when I was younger," she says.

"When you have those problems you've got to keep yourself happy and active. I'm pretty good now – the doctor says I'm good as gold.

"And it gives you extra strength. People knock on my door and say, 'Can you open this jar for me'. It's given me more confidence physically."

And Debi loves just getting outside and spending time with the other women.

"I'm on the pension and I find it really difficult to go out and do things, which drives me mad. It's really good that it's free, you can come along and have a good time, it's wonderful," Debi says. 

"I like the open space and being on the ground. I live in a unit in the middle of the city, so there's no outside area at all. And I like the social aspect; I've got friends here now and I look forward to it."

Jill and Bree, who coach the women each week with the support of volunteers, encourage the players to socialise on and off the pitch. They regularly attend Melbourne City games together.

To celebrate International Women's Day on Thursday 8 March, the women will join Melbourne's rally for gender equality after training. 

For anyone thinking of trying out street soccer, "Go ahead," is Debi's message. "I'm always trying to recruit people, it doesn't matter what age.

"I think Helen's 70-something and she can kick wonderful goals, she's a real striker. It's a myth that you get weaker with old age, because I've gotten stronger with age."

Along with word of mouth, players are often referred to the program though community services. To refer a player click here.

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