Building the Matildas legacy with Michelle Heyman

When Cortnee Vine’s penalty kick hit the back of the net against France, the whole of Australia roared. Recognition and support were a long time coming, says Australian striker, Michelle Heyman.

Building the Matildas legacy with Michelle Heyman

Matilda Michelle Heyman is featured in the latest episode of our podcast On Side. Michelle played for Australia 61 times between 2010-2018, booting 20 goals.





Podcast intro: Welcome to On Side, the official podcast of Sport Integrity Australia. Our mission is to protect the integrity of sport and the health and welfare of those who participate in Australian sport.

Tim Gavel: Hello and welcome to On Side, I'm Tim Gavel. And today we're looking at the momentum generated by the Matilda’s success at the World Cup and joining us is former Matilda, Michelle Heyman. Michelle played 61 games for the Matildas scoring 20 goals. Michelle it's been extraordinary to see what the Matildas have been able to achieve…record ratings, record crowds and a genuine movement for change. It's incredible.

Michelle Heyman: It's been the most amazing month that I've ever been a part of, um, this is something that I think every single Matilda, or every single female athlete, has wanted for such a long time and to see something so special like our World Cup, to see those numbers, to see the amount of people in the stands, on home soil is incredible.

We've pushed for this. We've tried to sell our brand for a very long time, and it was so nice to finally see, you know, the rest of Australia understand how hard it is for women athletes to make themselves look like a professional male athlete. You know, by having the large crowd, the large numbers…so being able to have that on home soil I think it's definitely, like hopefully, going to change the way for women's sport within Australia.

Tim Gavel: Because, let's face it, there are very few full-time professional footballers in women's ranks in Australia. They have to go overseas you know, so the hope is that we can have full-time professional sports people in Australia, in not just your sport but also in basketball, cricket.

Michelle Heyman: 100%. Because I still talk to a lot of the girls in that team, and most of them would rather be playing in Australia than overseas. But right now, playing overseas is where financially you’re more sound, and there’s better quality of sport over there at the moment especially for football. The level is a lot higher than what it is in Australia but if we were able to, you know, make Australian football financially great for the players to come back, I reckon you would have a lot more Matildas knocking down the door to be back in the A-Leagues.

But again, financially, it always comes back to money and if you can make you know 10 times more money to go play overseas than what you can in your own country…you've got to do it. Your career is only max 10 years long so you have to jump at it when you can.

Tim Gavel: Because let's have a look at a couple of stats. You played in the 2015 Women's World Cup and made it through to the quarterfinals. How much did you earn for making it through to the quarterfinals as part of the Matildas?

Michelle Heyman: $750 was our big paycheque that we got so, you know, within eight years' time when you look at today and what the girls went home with. Definitely it's improved but again when you look at that compared to the males’ football, we're still a long way away.

Tim Gavel: Why do you think that is? Is it because males are in charge of sport? Or is it because, you know, it just hasn't been accepted properly by both the media and the sporting community?

Michelle Heyman: I think definitely hasn't been accepted. I feel like the amount of money that they must have put into the marketing for this World Cup is the most that we've ever actually spent on women's sport in Australia. Because if you look at it, there was pretty much every Matilda was on a billboard somewhere. They were blasted on big buildings. They were in every single newspaper. They were always talked about on social media. So, there was this big hype for, you know, 6 to 3 months of Matildas and as soon as day one started, we got 75,000 plus in that stadium. Like, the marketing, what they put behind it to fill those seats was incredible.

I look at when we went to the World Cup…there was nothing. No one really cared. It was a little bit of a social media post on Instagram and Facebook and maybe, you know, a couple of newspapers jumped on board to have a good, you know, conversation about it… but other than that, it was nothing. I don't even think we're on TV. I don't think anyone took the rights. No one wanted to host it through any Australian Network which is a bit frustrating, but the sad thing is, even listening to FIFA at the moment, they talk about not the TV rights. Like, Channel 10 didn't want to be a part of it. So many companies didn't want to be a part of this World Cup and it kind of slapped them in the face because it was so popular, and it's the highest ranking.

So, you know, Channel 7’s done really well, but one, I think it started off with you know only X amount of games that they were showing and then they really started to see the hype and they were like; “oh okay we'll add some more free to air games on”. But the likes of Channel 7 and Optus Sport getting behind women's sport has definitely, you know, changed the way it was from when it was my World Cup.

So, I think the more media, the more advertisement, and just that marketing definitely helps. And you know the likes of having Sam Kerr. Her name, her brand is well known so if we can get, you know, I think now McKenzie Arnold has that type of brand now…they're calling her "the brick wall". So, it's like her being injured for this World Cup kind of allowed everyone else to build a brand.

So hopefully now, everyone knows who the other Matildas are, and we can start selling it that way because I think women are so good at selling things. We're great people. We're easy to talk to. We're very good in the market world so it's like just hoping companies jump on board now to see if we can improve on that side of things.

Tim Gavel: Just on the number of coaches that are women too, I mean the hope is that this generates more interest from women wanting to become coaches of women's sporting teams because, for instance, in Canberra there's only one, Nicole Begg, in terms of coaching a women's team in in the top tier competition in Canberra.

Michelle Heyman: Yeah, and it's and it's pretty sad because there's still no funding for coaches even if you look at the A-Leagues. Like I don't think any of the coaches are getting paid more than 10 to $20,000 for a head coach job and if you look overseas, they're on $300 to $500,000. You know, I wonder what Ange is getting paid, you know, to be a coach overseas. So, you look at that, but you look at our league there's just no support within coaching. So, I look at I'm like why would you want to become a coach?

There's no career path for you. There's a hobby if you want to jump on the hobby train. But when you can't financially look after yourself from doing something that you love. That's when, you know, it starts to get a little bit frustrating because again we just don't have funding in certain places to grow the game.

Tim Gavel: Just having a look your career, when you started on the South Coast and as a young player, I think about 11 years of age, did you have ambitions to be a Matilda back then?

Michelle Heyman: No, I didn't even know that the Matildas existed. I literally found out about the Matildas maybe a month before I got called into the Matildas. I had no idea that there was an Australian team.

Tim Gavel: A month before you got in.

Michelle Heyman: Yeah, finished my W-League season and won a few awards and the head coach, Tom Somani at the time, asked me to come into a camp and I had to ask my teammates…I was like who who's this guy? And I was like what am I doing? And what's a camp? I didn't know what a camp was. Yeah, and that's kind of how my journey started.

Tim Gavel: Had you won the Julie Dolan medal, and that's the highest honour, and yet there was no awareness that you could be a Matilda?

Michelle Heyman: No and I didn't even know who she was and that breaks my heart. Because we're very good friends now. So, I look at it from…I think that was maybe…what year was that? 2010? Not long ago. Yeah, and within, you know, 13 years I've managed to, you know… I met her that day and then now we've become pretty good friends. It’s nice to you know, still have that connection within the women's sport.

But yeah, I had no idea about the Matildas. And I'm not the only Matilda who didn't know who the Matildas were. If you were to ask a handful of them probably none of them, maybe 50%, would have been like “oh yeah, I actually supported the Matildas before making the Matildas. I wanted to be one”. And it would be the younger generation. But I knew Steph Catley… she just said it in her latest article she didn't know who the Matildas were either. And I'm like okay, and she's, what, six seven years younger than me. So, I'm like that's a big generation gap again.

Tim Gavel: Well, you wonder given the awareness and the hype around the Matildas now there are going to be a whole lot of young women wanting to become Matildas in the future, and hopefully there are facilities there and coaches, there's the Integrity Frameworks to guide them through.

Michelle Heyman: 100% we need that, and I think, you know, that's a big problem that we don't have right now. I think most of the A-League clubs are, you know, we still share a lot with the men's teams. And, you know, unlucky for us Canberra we don't have a men's team at all so our foundations and our facilities are…we're lucky we're training out of the AIS but, at the same time, it would be really cool to have our own football, you know, home of football within Canberra and to be able to go to our field and have all our staff there and the team being able to just be comfortable in one spot.

But, for us, I think we're still a long way to go and we have to continue to, you know, fight those little battles because if we don't do it then nothing's ever going to change. But, you know, fingers crossed with what the Matildas have done would definitely bring in some more funding, because that's the biggest thing we need we need…money within the game.

Tim Gavel: They're already talking about facilities for instance. Because you know, most of the facilities are built for men's teams. And the women having to share.

Michelle Heyman: Yeah, like if you walk into the bathroom and it looks like a men's bathroom there's… That's a simple thing. That's a simple thing. Yeah, that's a simple thing, and that's like we used to have to ask constantly I'm like can we please have bins in the bathroom can we please have certain things within in this stadium because there's nothing there for women and it's quite sad when you think about it that every single stadium built within Australia was only built for men, um and only one to two teams when it could have been built for at least four different teams.

I remember when I was playing at Central Coast Mariners and we couldn't train or play at their stadium because it only had a home and away change room. So, if the men played after us guess where we got put? In a tent out in the car park. Yeah. Where everyone would watch us get changed in the car park 'cos there was no room for women to be inside the stadium, so…

Tim Gavel: Many aspects, not a lot has changed.

Michelle Heyman: No!

Tim Gavel: Like I know that was when you were playing for the Mariners before coming back to Canberra, and before you went to Adelaide.

Michelle Heyman: But…it's sad when you really look at it and I hope, you know, we just got that $200 million funding, so fingers crossed you know. That's going to be around all sports though, all female sports but you hope that, you know, some of that money goes within the facility and, you know, to the grassroots of football because we have to start now. I'm like we're rolling, the iron is hot. I'm like we got to jump on board, and we got to you know, invest in women's football.

Tim Gavel: And with more women coming through, as mentioned moment ago, it's important that they have the right education around integrity, ethical decision making…

Michelle Heyman: Definitely...

Tim Gavel: Play by the Rules, so it's like there's…there's a lot to learn pretty quickly.

Michelle Heyman: Yeah, cos you know looking at my junior years and I was in a boys' team, so I got you know… I was lucky back then, you just rocked up to, you know, your game with your boots on and your shinnies on already and you just go jump out of the car and you start playing.

But now I think about it and I'm like, oh God, I used to always just have to like change my t-shirt in you know either hide behind this the canteen or, you know, do something like away from the rest of the boys, cos there was no room for me to be in the change room.

Tim Gavel: Yeah, so can you see almost a light bulb moment now in Australian sport people are saying oh you know women should be treated fairly with parity?

Michelle Heyman: It's nice that people are just talking like, you know, I think that's super important because not a lot of people understood or knew how women were treated in sport for, you know, for a very long time.

The standards, we definitely are second class citizens women athletes, and it has been for a very long time. So if we can change that and move into a more positive looking forward direction, then the next generation of kids coming through, it's going to be a wonderful time to be joining, you know, a team and playing team sport um, because it's made me who I am, and I think it's one of the best things for any human to be a part of the team because of all the skills that you learn within it.

Tim Gavel: Is there much sexism do you think from male administrators, coaches that still needs to be dealt with? We've obviously seen the fallout from the Spanish women's team.

Michelle Heyman: Definitely, I've had these conversations even with our coaching staff within Canberra and it's just having that knowledge. We even now have, you know, the Pride Cup and Pride in Sport come out and talk to us and the coaching staff on how to just be a human and to be able to talk and respect everybody, um because you know back in the day that wasn't a thing.

So, coaches are learning to this day, especially if you're a lot older. But again, it's just all about that communication, it's just having that knowledge, um and being able to be present with the times. But yeah, I think yeah, I think there's a lot to be done within that space.

Tim Gavel: I guess it shows a bit of courage though, to stand up and address that sort of thing, because you are an older player, you're able to do it, but I would imagine that's not always the case with younger players?

Michelle Heyman: Yeah, definitely, um, and yeah, it's a different generation. When I look at my players, the new one was born in 2006, and I was like cool that's when I finished school…so it's like the age gap is getting even bigger now, 'cause I'm getting a lot older than what I should be and still playing.

But you know, it's being that role model and trying to, you know, be able to be a sounding board for my coaches and for my players. I'm kind of like the girl in the middle who just likes to listen to everyone's conversation to make sure that everyone feels safe and comfortable.

Tim Gavel: Do you think that the current generation realise what you went through, or what your generation went through…for instance the 2015 World Cup, $750 for making it through to the quarterfinal? Do you think that there is a realisation that there were people there that dug the well, and even before you?

Michelle Heyman: Yeah, I look at it and I you know my best mate is Caitlin Munoz, who was in the Matildas 10 years before me, and she never made a dollar. So, I think I'm lucky that I have a great relationship with her because I saw her struggles. And then she is grateful for me because she's like “well at least you got paid and you got to do something. You got to get a little bit of a career out of it”.

Um...but that $750 remark when I looked on social media, I've had you know some people be like “oh that's so sad” and then some people like “well that's more than what athletics gets” and that's more like everyone has to judge to something else. But it was more along the lines of $750 to what the men got that year, I think.

In comparison. Like the Socceroo's didn't even make it out of the group stage and all of them walked away with $300,000 and I'm like okay, well here we are in quarterfinals with that amount of money. I'm like it just doesn't make sense in my eyes. But the amount of training that we do is the exact same as what the males do but yeah, we just don't see the dollar.

Tim Gavel: One area I want to ask you about was obviously with the greater exposure comes greater pressure, and you mentioned there social media. Are sports women equipped, do you think, to cope with, you know, the sudden rise in fame and exposure and suddenly people feel as though it's okay to have a crack at them on social media…and you know if they miss a goal, or they don't kick a goal or they don't save a goal?

Michelle Heyman: Yeah, like I think women are strong and have to be and have been for a very long time. They know how to present themselves on social media and we know not to really read what people say to us. Because, you know, I used to cop it a lot, especially for being a gay athlete. People would tell me to read the Bible constantly and I just never understood. It was a book I didn't want to be able to read. But I just believe in women because we've always had to have that second job, we've always have to, you know, be able to juggle as many things as possible.

Juggling, you know, our own personal social media and being able to handle criticism just comes with the game. And we get criticized from our coaches more than what we get criticized by the people in the stands, so I think there's like a part of us that know. We're like “we're the ones on the field, we know what we're doing, you're just jealous 'cause you're sitting in the stand, say whatever you need to say but we're doing our job, and we're trying our best”. So, it's that kind of mentality.

We try not to let things get to us, because if you do, then that's when the problems start to just unravel and roll everywhere.

Tim Gavel: Having known you for a while over the years, you're one of the more grounded people that I've ever known, and you're quite comfortable in talking about your own life. Is there always that worry that “gee, I don't want to expose myself too much”?

Michelle Heyman: I can't not. It's weird, I like to be as honest as I can, and sometimes this gets me into trouble as well because… my mum always told me to like speak your mind and if you have an opinion just say it, so I have been doing that since I was little so I don't think it could ever change, but you know, I think that's why I'm not within the Matildas. I think that's, you know, the way that I speak sometimes…it just might, you know, make people feel different because I’m so honest.

I'm not a “yes man” kind of girl anymore. I was when I was quite younger, but now I'm like…the more that I can speak my own truth and be honest with who I am, that's when I feel the happiest. And when I'm the happiest, that's when I play good football and you see me smiling running around on the field.

So, it works for me, and I'll always just be as honest as I can.

Tim Gavel: When you say there's been backlash at times how do you handle that?

Michelle Heyman: I just laugh. 'Cause I'm just like, well what's the point? I'm like you know…it's my own personal opinion, you can have your own opinion and that's fine, I'm not here to have arguments with people. It was just this is my thought and that's why I said it, um, and then yeah, I just kind of let it go. And then people just bring things up constantly but again, I am who I am and I'm not going to change that.

Tim Gavel: How do you reckon male sports people have found the sudden rise of the Matildas? You know everybody's talking about Mary Fowler, Steph Catley. They're talking about Haley Raso, they're talking about Sam Kerr.

Michelle Heyman: I think it's awesome, 'cos like, you even saw like the Boomers with all their jerseys on and you know changing the time of their game just so they could watch the girls. I'm like that's something special because I know that all the male counterparts have always wanted women to be in the headlight as well.

Like they wanted to fill stadiums. Who would ever play sport and not want to play in front of people? That's the whole purpose of doing what we do, so I think they're all on board. They love it. Like, being able to see, you know, there was film of like the Panthers and everyone just like cheering and screaming about the penalty shootout. I'm like, that's what Australians are about.

We are one of the best, you know, countries in the world. We’re loving, we support each other, everyone pretty much barracks for every single code within the game, um, so to have that support from the males is's awesome, because it's always been there. It just hasn't been out into the public.

Tim Gavel: Great for young women too, because there used to be that saying didn’t there that “you can't be what you can't see”. Suddenly they're able to see it. And you would imagine that it's not just good for young women wanting to be football or soccer players, but right across the board, women feel empowered to “okay this is what I want to do in life”.

Michelle Heyman: It's awesome. Like I love being able to, you know, turn on the TV now and you see the NRLW on, and I'm just like thank goodness. I was like; "God, if that was on when I was 18, I would have played that sport for sure", 'cos I grew up playing touch football as well and I loved the NRL. Like that was my sport that I watched, and now for me to be able to see those girls going out there hitting really hard, and like you know, loving what they're doing, it inspires it inspires me to play.

I'm a little bit too old now, I think it would hurt my body a bit much, but you know, if that's inspiring me, then of course it's going to be inspiring, you know, people younger than me to go out and go play that sport. So, to see more women on TV and in the media, it's only the best thing that can happen for us.

Tim Gavel: As a final question, how do we keep this momentum going, because people are talking about putting more money into facilities more money for women playing sport…how do you keep it going? Because there will be a time when people say, “oh yeah the Matildas they played well, it was great to watch them in the world cup, but we've moved on”. How do you keep it going and capitalise on it do you think?

Michelle Heyman: It's a very hard one. What I'm trying to even push here in Canberra is, you know, come out to the games. Come out to Mackellar Park. Come show, like come support us. Just buy a membership, be a part of it if you can. We will entertain you. It's always a fun day out at Mackellar to watch, you know, Canberra United play, so I'm like that's the way that I'm looking at it.

Just trying to bring people out especially cos Covid is gone now, you know we're allowed out we might as well enjoy. It's a summer sport so we're like you might as well come out enjoy the nice sunshine. There's you know there's beers…there's everything. Like, there's a lot of people having fun, but no one knows about it and, again, this like I said from the beginning, it comes back down to that marketing.

And if no one knows that we're playing um then that's the sad thing so it's trying right now while the iron is hot is to get as much information about every single code within Canberra, within your state to, you know, jump on board and to push it.

I was having a talk with cricket the other day and even they're thinking of the same thing. They're like “okay, well because football's doing so well right now, like, how are we going to allow cricket to do just as well?”. And they're like “well we need to make sure people know that we're playing and where we're playing and these days” and things like that.

If you walk down the street there's not a lot of advertisement for any female sports within Canberra…but we do have, you know, six professional teams and there's nothing about us right now. So, I'm like we need to start pushing that and seeing more of us in the papers and on social and I think that's the only way that we can continue to make it, you know, hot for as long as possible.

Tim Gavel: And get the corporates on board because they realise that you're very good role models.

Michelle Heyman: 100% I'm like; "yeah just sponsor us. Please!" Be great.

Tim Gavel: Michelle thanks very much for joining On Site it's been a pleasure talking to you today. It's been the best thank you.

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