There are not many Australian footballers who can say they have witnessed the intense connection between Brazil and football. Once such player is Matildas legend and Hall of Famer Joanne (Joey) Peters. In over 13 years with the national team, Peters notched up 110 caps and 28 international goals, including 1 for Australia in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
By
Ellie Chapman

Source:
The Women's Game
28 Jul 2016 - 7:30 PM  UPDATED 29 Jul 2016 - 7:23 AM

Club wise Peters criss crossed the globe playing for New York Power in the WUSA, under Sweden head coach Pia Sundhage at KIF Orebro (Sweden) and with Brazilian side Santos.  TWG caught up with Joey ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Joey, you were fortunate enough to spend some time playing soccer professionally in Brazil, so you must be excited that the Matildas are able to enjoy their culture and all it has to offer. 

I am really pleased that the Matildas get to experience Brazil. Usually when you go away with the national team you are restricted to seeing only hotels, football fields and coffee shops. So it is my hope that the team is able to bring some of the culture back with them.

I feel like Australia can learn a lot about the purity and love of the game that the Brazilians have. I hope the Matildas get to meet some of the locals, and see kids playing soccer with coconuts in the streets.

Brazilians play soccer for the enjoyment of the game, for the way it makes them feel and how it brings people together.

In Australia, we as a nation can become very serious about our sport, and like to put pressure on ourselves to win and be the best. From Brazil, we can learn how to always play for the enjoyment of the game, and its beautiful nature. I feel like that is the direction we are taking the game with the Matildas, it really is becoming a beautiful game that the girls are playing.

What was your favourite part about living in Brazil?

The people that I met really made an impact on me.  Football is so embedded in their culture that spending time there just grew the love of the game within me even more. The locals know how to have a good time and really make an effort to embrace visitors.

Despite the language barrier I still felt an amazing connection to the people of Brazil through the game.

What sets the Olympics apart from other major tournaments?

The feeling of unity between athletes from all over the world, that join together to make up a larger sporting family, is something unique to the Olympics.

The athletes have the utmost respect for each other, because each one realises that it is an achievement in itself just to qualify. When I went to Athens in 2004, there was some big names at the tournament. Kobe Bryant and the USA dream team, as well as Usain Bolt, just to name a few.

The Olympics bring a sense of equality though, each athlete is human after all, and there was a sense that you were all on an equal playing field because of this great event. There is a real unity that comes with the world of sport. For me I really liked getting out of the football bubble, and being able to learn and be inspired from other athletes.

Joanne Peters taking on Brazil at Athens 2004 (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

What was your favourite off-field memory from Athens?

We had our first game on one of the Greek islands, which was a beautiful place to visit. We happened to be staying at the same hotel as the Portuguese Men’s team, which of course featured Cristiano Ronaldo. Even as a braces adorning, pimply faced, 17 year old, he was still very well known.

The hotel had a U-shaped set up, and we were fortunate enough to have both a scenic view, and a good vantage point of other hotel balconies. We would pretend to be scouting the scenery while really checking out Ronaldo sunbathing in his briefs!

After an initial loss to Brazil, the Matildas beat the host nation (Greece) and tied the USA, who went on to win the gold. You scored an important goal against the USA, to tie the game. The result enabled the team to progress to the quarterfinals for the first time. What was that moment like for you?

For me personally that’s one of my fondest memories. As a team, what we were able to achieve at the 2006 Asian Cup and the 2007 World Cup was fantastic, but on a personal level that particular game is something I am proud of.

The USA Women’s national team members were such heroes for me, being pioneers for women’s soccer and the best in the world at the time.

Athens was the last tournament for some of the USA’s biggest stars such as Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett and Briana Scurry, so I was thrilled to even be playing them.

That particular moment when I was able to score felt like such a gift for me. I actually had a picture on my wall of Briana Scurry (USA goalkeeper), and I used to dream of putting a goal past her. Making that dream a reality was unforgettable and a real highlight of my career.

To have Julie Fowdy come up and joke with me after the game about how I out jumped her to score the goal, it really meant a lot. Those players we matched up against had achieved legendary status, and so I was really grateful for that moment to make an impact, which then allowed us to progress in the tournament.

 

How do you think the Matildas will match up against the top teams in Rio?

The current group of Matildas have really proved their consistency in tournaments over the last few years, and that is what gives us a realistic chance of progressing substantially at the Olympics. In some respects it is uncharted territory for us because we have never accomplished anything as grand as what we are trying to achieve.

I think a key performance indicator for us would be topping the group. In the last few tournaments we have really made inroads at starting tournaments well. If we can get a good result in the group play, I think that will really set us up for the remainder of the tournament.

Who are you most looking forward to watching in the current Matildas squad?

I would like to pay respect to every player that is currently part of this Matildas squad. Each player is incredibly unique and brings her own qualities to the group. This culminates in a team that is a very well balanced unit, accounting for each part of the game.

I have immense admiration for every player and how they are committed to improving their performance. I think any one of them could be a shining light in their own right at Rio.

That being said, I believe that if we win a medal, Lydia Williams will definitely be a contributing factor. Lydia routinely makes saves that one would not expect a keeper to be able to make. We get very excited when our offense is successful in scoring a goal, and rightly so, but we need to remember how crucial it is when Lydia makes a save at the other end. Lydia deserves a lot of credit as a person as well.

 

As someone who came from humble beginnings and is a proud ambassador of her aboriginal heritage, she is the ultimate role model for young people and for this Matildas brand. She is a great person, a strong leader, and is always professional in her approach to the game.

Being a former midfielder myself, I am also looking forward to seeing KK (Elise Kellond-Knight) in action at Rio. I don’t believe there is a player in the world right now that can impact the game so much without the ball, as Elise Kellond-Knight does.

She so capably anchors our possession, and screens the opposition’s offensive threats. I look forward to watching her composure on the ball and intelligent positioning off the ball. She is still growing in that role as the holding midfielder, so it will be great to see her after a season in Germany under her belt. 

What do you think it will mean for the Matildas, past and present, for the girls to medal in Rio? What impact will it have on the game in Australia?

I think the game in Australia would go absolutely nuts! If the girls win a medal it would really do wonders for the progression of the game in Australia. To see how many girls are currently enjoying this game and how many more opportunities have opened up professionally as a result of the growth is really exciting.

 

For myself and the other former Matildas, the message from this growth is that what we committed to the sport was worth it.

Each of the former Matildas have stories about sacrifices we made for the game, and the Matildas before me had even more challenges to overcome.  So to know that everything we have done in the past has contributed to building and growing the game to where it is now is a great feeling.

The current squad now has different challenges to deal with because of the expectation placed on them, but this is a good thing. It is amazing to see how steadily the women’s game has built over the past few decades. Whether it’s at Rio or beyond, our major breakthrough is coming. We are heading in a good direction, and are more competitive with the top teams that ever before.

With the growth of the game and the Matildas success at recent tournaments there seems to be added pressure to perform well in Rio. How do you think the Matildas will respond?

I think any pressure on the Matildas will have a positive effect. Most of the pressure is actually coming from the girls themselves. In the past few major tournaments it has felt like the team’s expectation of themselves exceeded the expectation of the public. I don’t think pressure is even the right word; it’s more a matter of belief. They seem to convert the pressure into a positive energy that drives them. The more they are challenged they more they seem to step up. For this reason I think the team is in a really good mindset to be able to handle the scope of this tournament.

You have recently undertaken a new venture in children’s education. Game Play Learn (link below) was launched last month, how did this endeavor come about?

After almost 10 years of coaching, with the last 3 years at the International Football School, I gained a great deal of knowledge and experience working with children and teaching them effective ways to learn and play. I wanted to share what I have learned and make the research and teaching methodologies available to others.

Peters is coaching the next generation of players

The main aim is just to make a difference in kids’ lives for the better, and so far the approach has been well received. The organic sense of children’s play seemed to get lost in education for a while, and it’s powerful to see what the kids can achieve when it’s given back to them.

www.gameplaylearn.net


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