MATILDAS great Kate Gill played most of her W-League career with Perth, where she won two golden boots, but she admits always having a soft spot for Newcastle.
Now a players’ representative, Gill said it was great to see the Jets return to the finals and kick goals off the field this season.
Third-placed Newcastle take on Sydney at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday for a grand final spot after finishing in the top four for the first time in nine years.
New Zealand-born striker Gill, who scored 41 goals in 86 appearances for Australia, grew up in Newcastle and played with the Northern NSW Pride and NSW Sapphires before the W-League began.
Gill was the Jets’ leading scorer with six when they last played in the finals, in the competition’s inaugural W-League season of 2008-09. Newcastle, which also featured home-grown Matildas legends Cheryl Salisbury and Joey Peters, finished second but lost 1-0 to Canberra in the semi-finals.
“It’s fantastic to see,” Gill said of Newcastle making the play-offs again. “The last time, Chez and Joey Peters were still playing and we got pipped at the post by Canberra. We absolutely battered them but couldn’t score. We had a great year though and I really enjoyed my time there.”
Gill retired after the 2015 season and has since been a player relations executive with Professional Footballers Australia. She was a driving force in establishing the ground-breaking collective bargaining agreement for W-League players this year and was thrilled to see the greater recognition of women’s football in Newcastle, which was shown by the A-League side’s guard of honour for the W-League squad before last Saturday night’s game against Melbourne City at McDonald Jones Stadium.
“This is the first year they’ve taken the girls back under the A-League’s club’s wing and that has probably paid off,” she said of the team’s success.
“I think [Jets CEO] Lawrie McKinna has been fantastic for the club and to see the boys do the guard of honour for the girls on the weekend, that’s fantastic. That shows a great club culture and the boys are flying as well, which is brilliant.”
Another sign of progress is coming from the Hunter chapter of the Men Of Football, an organisation which seeks to develop the game and help those in it who are in need.
Hunter vice-president Bill Pryce said the group are planning to change their name to a gender neutral title and have equal representation of men and women committee members. The organisation has this season created the Cheryl Salisbury Medal, which will presented to the W-League side’s most committed on and off the field each year.
Gill welcomed the changes.
“The whole idea is about professionalising the women’s game and that’s all a part of it.
“It doesn’t just come from the players, it’s got to come from administrators, those involved at club level and on boards at clubs. We need the female voice pretty much entrenched in the game, so it’s good to see organisations like the Men Of Football aren’t going to be called that anymore and they are making those changes.
“I think football in Newcastle, especially women’s football, has always had great roots. We’ve had numerous Matildas come out of Newcastle and it’s always been a breeding ground for talent. It’s good to see local girls that are doing well within that team now.”
“And of course adding international flavour to that only boosts the squad. I think the girls have done really well and it's a good mix.”
Gill was proud to be part of the progress of women’s football in Australia but said “it’s still very foundational”.
“Obviously you would have liked to see these things implemented 10 years ago, but this is just the foundation now and we just build the bricks on top of it and keep the momentum moving forward.
“I think the biggest thing out of it is always to make sure that the girls at a young age can see there’s a pathway and that they can be professional footballers and they have great role models to aspire to, and that’s all part of the journey to make it a practicality.”