2015’s stand out moment
Well obviously a lot of people would say the World Cup, but for me it was the process of the World Cup. Six months together and a lot of soul-searching and a lot of team bonding. A unity stands out the most. It was a life-changer for me personally to see it all displayed at the World Cup.
The key to Australia’s World Cup success
I think obviously we were a good side, with a lot of young players.
When we got to the World Cup I think a lot of it was we learnt more about what it means to go out and play for your country and learn more about yourself and about doing it for yourself. To go out and display the way that we did every individual found that ability in themselves to go out and perform. That was the biggest thing for me to see out of that last twelve months.
"Every individual found that ability in themselves to go out and perform."
I’ve been in the team for a very long time and the belief and the aura and the unity in this team this year was different to the other years. We felt that we can take any team. And to have that in the whole team instead of relying on three or four players that we have in the past, it was a moment for me. I’ve always felt there were always a couple of players I had to rely on, but everyone dug in and everyone played a special part in the success, and obviously the outcome back at home with people wanting to know about the Matildas was all based on our performance.
That first game against the USA, eventual world champions, leading the team out as captain
Yeah, it was an amazing experience.
Obviously to captain my team especially playing the US on my hundredth cap was probably one of the highlights of my career, but as you walk into the stadium you don’t think about anything else but your role and your job.
“Wow, this is real life, this is what I’ve prepared for my whole life”
And for me, walking into the change room, to see everyone’s jersey up and the armband there, I thought, “Wow, this is real life, this is what I’ve prepared for my whole life”. And not only am I doing it with potentially the best group of youth players coming through Australia, but to be the captain of it, it was an amazing experience. As we were lining up and everyone was focused, and we lined up to walk out to the national anthem, for about it felt like two minutes but it was probably about ten seconds, it just felt like an out-of-body experience.
I’m looking at myself and looking at the team and looking at the crowd and thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m actually doing this”. Because it’s the biggest honour and the greatest achievement to lead your country out, especially against a nation like the USA, and obviously having Abby Wambach there, who I’ve played with for many years and who I look up to. I’m standing next to an icon. The national anthem just felt a bit different, the vibe felt a bit different, and to have friends and family and everyone around the world watch this game, it was just … I can’t explain that feeling, it’s a cherished moment for me.
Becoming the Matildas captain in a surprise move
Yeah, I’m in the same boat as everyone else, I was a little bit surprised. I never thought in a million years that this would ever happen to me, obviously because of my reputation. But I’ve played for a very long time and I have a lot of experience and if you speak to anyone they know how much playing for my country means to me.
"I wasn’t a born leader, but I’m a born winner and I think sometimes that’s what you need."
The key for me was having a co-captain in Clare [Polkinghorne]. I’ve played with great leaders and I don’t have the full package. I wasn’t a born leader, but I’m a born winner and I think sometimes that’s what you need. I’ve learnt a little bit from everyone and I’ve played with Abby and learnt things from her, Cheryl Salisbury taught me some things. When you have players like Jess Fishlock and Sonia Bompastor, who are similar and passionate and driven, you just get that instilled in you. it’s what you want to be as a player and you lead that out. When
When Staj told me I actually, literally cried. I was in tears because I’m thinking is this a joke? I was waiting for someone to come out and go, “I got you, tricked you!”. I had flashbacks to the last ten years of my life and thought, I’m going to do what I can to lead this country to the most successful ever because I’m so driven to success with the team.
The LDV captaincy style
To be honest, there are some things I need to work on. I’m not the full package. There are a couple of players that are not quite there yet but do have the full package. I’m a different character to a lot of players, a lot of people, so I don’t know.
I think it’s about my success and how I play and how hungry I am on the field. I’m more of a leader on the field than off the field. I think Polks has that communication stuff. I learn from how she speaks to players. She’s a true leader in the off-field stuff, as well as on-field but mostly off-field. I learn a lot from her, so it’s a good balance and I think I like that balance where I don’t have the full responsibility of doing both on and off the field, because the reality is that’s not my greatest strength.
"I’m a different character to a lot of players."
At the end of the day, I know it’s just an armband but it’s a big thing to me because I love playing for my country that much. To lead these girls out there just makes me a different person, makes me a different player. I’m constantly thinking about the team and my behaviour and how it affects the team or how my lifestyle out of football could affect the team because it just means so much to me.
The love of playing for Australia
Staj [coach Alen Stajic] and I have that same driven love for our country and we’re probably be the ones that kiss our jersey every night and sleep with our jerseys because we’re just such proud people.
But I think getting out of my comfort zone, like we did with team bonding stuff, meant that the girls could hear me talk about my country or talk about football, and they could see it in my eyes. They could feel it. I actually connect with them when I talk about it because I speak from the heart.
I think Staj saw that and thought, “You know what, she’s got experience, she’s driven, she’s not as crazy as everyone makes her out to be” and that I could lead the country to something great. I think that was his reason because there are a lot of good leaders in the team who in a few years’ time will be fantastic captains for the Matildas. So it’s a great journey for me at the moment.
The strike controversy & taking a different line to the rest of the team
That issue was probably a little bit of a misunderstanding.
Obviously, I totally agree with what the girls fight for and obviously they’re very passionate in what they want to do. I support them a hundred percent, but it comes to that sort of in-between. It’s instilled in me that my country always comes first. For me I felt that I couldn’t walk away from that because it goes with my integrity and what I believe in. I knew exactly what the outcome would be. It would probably put me in a situation where I’d have to explain myself, which I did. And at the end that’s all it was, I had to explain to them. They understand where I’m coming from and I get where they’re coming from. It was how I felt because I come from Fremantle, I come from Perth.
"I promised myself that that jersey comes first"
I’ve come from a different channel where that shirt is what got me to where I am now. It’s gotten me out of things where I could have gone down a bad path. It was always that shirt that kept me level-headed and kept me focused. I promised myself that that jersey comes first.
So as a player, as a person and as something that I believe in, I just couldn’t say no to playing for my country, even though I knew the reason behind what they wanted to do and I support that one hundred percent. Because if anyone has seen how hard these girls worked in the last six months, they deserve more than what we’re getting now.
Team unity and the Olympic qualifiers ahead
Look, it was a bit rocky afterwards as it should be. There were a lot of people heartbroken from the whole situation. I was a little bit hurt and they were a little bit hurt, the staff were a little bit hurt. Because that six months we spent together we were family, you know? The coaching staff - we were each other’s family.
There was a little bit of disharmony in the beginning, everyone was a little bit hurt and that takes a bit of time to heal.
On the China tour you saw it on the field a little bit. We didn’t have that cohesion that we did at the World Cup. That took time, but we’ve built on that. So obviously I had a little bit of a chat to the girls and slowly now we’re getting back to things and everyone’s happy, everyone’s focused, and I’m very confident that when February comes we’re going to take it to all the Asian teams.
Lessons from a playing around the world in 2015
I think about these things all the time: what have I done as a player, as a leader, as a person to make an impact on the young girls in football or just in general? It’s a tough one because I don’t really have an answer.
When I look back at the last twelve months I just think of the hard work we put in, it’s something that we’ve never done before. Every player dug in, they found that player inside them that wanted to go out and be so successful and the outcome of women’s football changed. And that’s all I want. To leave a legacy and for more girls to look up to us, not just, “Oh, play women’s football because you can travel” but actually, “You know what, I want to play because I want to be the best player and impact the world as much as I can”. So to me, when I look back, it’s the World Cup and how much it changed women’s football in Australia.
It goes up and down. I have this discussion with Staj and it comes down to obviously the body. As long as the body’s good, how long I can keep up with the game? I don’t want to leave when I’m not good enough. I want to leave on my terms where I can walk away from the game and go, “You know what, I’m still good enough to walk away, then be kicked off the team because I wasn’t good enough.”
This interview with Lisa de Vanna was recorded by The Women's Game.