A whisper that travelled the globe has provided Amy Sayer with a world of opportunities.
The restrictions are easing slowly but it’s as the light begins to crawl into the shadows earlier each day. With it comes a chill that in one moment is invigorating, and in the next can steal your breath for a second.
In that interval between COVID-19 lockdown and full freedom, an unusual autumn and first tendrils of winter, a lean figure gathers her possessions for another afternoon of solitary training.
As Amy Sayer strides out to her small corner of Northbridge Oval, her mind is already cataloguing what needs to be achieved in the next 90 minutes, even as she dodges the occasional child or adult getting their football fix.
“I like coming out here because it’s easy to just get my skills work done,” the 18-year-old told matildas.com.au.
“I played here as a junior and know the area pretty well. Sometimes I see my former coaches around.”
Making her way to what is now her small corner of the pitch, Sayer sets up and methodically begins her warmup, even as a couple of the curious eyes take stock of the juggler that looks more comfortable than a park player.
10, 20, 30 quick touches on the right before a quick switch to the left. 10, 20, 30.
Then it’s onto the wall and striking the ball. Short passes. Long passes. Left foot control, right foot pass. Right foot control, left foot pass. A quick breathe, a small stretch and onto short pass at 45 degrees. Left foot, right foot.
“I sometimes get better control on the left foot, even though it’s not my dominant one,” she says with wry smile before returning to the repetition.
Across from Sayer near the cricket nets a young child's question wafts in the breeze “why does she keep doing the same thing. It’s boring.”
“Practice makes perfect,” the father explains with a note of respect in his voice. “It takes 10,000 touches.”
Whether it’s a theory that has scientific merit, for the father, Sayer’s concentration and meticulous movements were indicators of the dedication needed to make it to the top.
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Amy Sayer takes her craft — football — seriously and each move is calculated. It has been ever since she kicked her first ball, to the moment she experienced her first eight seconds of international football as a 93rd minute substitute for the Westfield Matildas against Japan at the 2018 Tournament of Nations.
“When I made my debut, all the sacrifices that I made kind of culminated in that moment,” she remembered.
“It was fantastic but then straight away for me it was, ‘what can I do now?’”
While she has made a further two appearances for the Westfield Matildas, including one start, since the 2018 debut, that question has been at the forefront of Sayer’s mind.
From Teenage Dreams
Like many players in the Westfield Matildas team, Amy Sayer came to prominence through eye catching performances in the Westfield W-League.
In her first season at Canberra United she made ten appearances and showed a maturity on the ball that caught the eye of national selectors.
Her arrival on the national scene followed years of whispers of a gifted attacking midfielder residing in Sydney’s upper north shore.
Sayer’s introduction to football was a typical one – following in the footsteps of her older brother Sean. Following Sean was never going to be enough for Amy and she always looked to find her own space and path.
“Probably I've always been a very competitive person,” she laughed. “I'm a perfectionist. That's how I would define myself.”
Sean might have lost some interest in the game later, although there is a sly smile when asked if that was due to Amy getting better than him, but Sayer was hooked. Her competitiveness and perfectionist bent also meant that the teen was never going to do things halfway.
I am always trying to like push myself to the next level, whether it's on the field or off the field at school.”
“I'm motivated to try and improve myself and my game.”
That drive for excellence saw Sayer follow a well-trodden path; Football NSW Institute, Westfield Junior Matildas, Westfield Young Matildas, Westfield W-League, Westfield Matildas.
All along the way she started to build a reputation as a technically proficient and creative midfielder with an eye for a pass and an eye for goal.
Remember those whispers? Well, they found their way from Sydney to Melbourne, to Manchester then California and back.
To California Dreamin’
“Well, it’s a bit of a long story,” Sayer laughed when asked about how she found herself recruited by Stanford Cardinal Women's Soccer Team.
The short version involves Alex Chidiac, Beattie Goad and those persistent whispers.
“When Mum and I went over for an official visit in June last year, she asked how the coach had heard about little Amy in Australia.”
“So Paul [Ratcliffe] was over at Manchester City, and somehow the Manchester City coach had heard from some Melbourne City coaches about looking at me. Then Paul started asking Beattie and then Beattie told Chids [Chidiac] and Chids told me.”
“Then it all snowballed from there.”
From that chain of whispers, Sayer has now found herself part of the 2024 recruiting class for the current NCAA Division I Women's Soccer Tournament champions.
A program that has produced the last three NSWL number one draftees including Sophia Smith in 2020, as well as current World Champions Christen Press, Kelley O’Hara and Tierna Davidson.
“It's because they're the best team in the US college system,” Sayer said of the decision head across for the next four years.
“They’ve just won their third national championship so when it came up, I just felt like I couldn't really turn it down. I think it'll be a really great place for my football to develop as well.”
While it would appear an easy decision to make on the sporting side, it was just one part of the equation for Sayer. Her football drive is only rivalled by her academic drive.
Equally important for the 18-year-old was the academic credentials of Stanford. In the 2019 HSC, Sayer achieved an ATAR of 99.25 which saw her accepted into a Law/Science double degree at UNSW. An equally impressive showing during the United States SAT college admissions test meant Sayer easily met the requirements for one of the world's top academic institutions.
I think Stanford is a good next step for me. That's also combining those academics as well. So that'll give me both of future after football and also balance me out, which has always been what school has been for me.”
“They have a 4% acceptance rate, which is the lowest in all of the US college system. Just being able be there, to have such a high level of both academics and football, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Sayer is looking to combine her love of law and human biology with an eye to becoming a legal bioethicist.
“I started thinking about doing a law degree, but I've always been really passionate about science. I thought it'd be a really great thing to combine my two passions.”
Her path will mean an undergraduate degree in Human Biology at Stanford with an aim of completing her law degree at UNSW. It won’t be an easy path, but Amy Sayer has never liked easy street.
As has been the case for many in 2020, COVID-19 has put Amy Sayer’s best laid plans on hold.
With universities across the world currently delivering classes online, Sayer’s next move is contingent on factors out of her control.
Sayer is not one to sit and wait.
Instead, when she is not occupied in health customer service, she is working diligently to be ready when the world returns to whatever the new normal looks like.
“I am preparing myself for Stanford at the moment. I am stressed about that preseason running,” she smiled.
“I've been doing like a lot of fitness so that even if maybe when I go there I maybe not the fastest or the most physical player, but at least I have my skills and my technical abilities. So that's what I’m working on.”
It's harder to get out to the fields, but I still managed to do it pretty much every day. I'm doing gym, field training, fitness and running. I just like that challenge. It's always about improving myself, how far I can push myself.”
Whenever Sayer eventually heads over to the American west coast, one eye will still be well and truly trained on the Australian east coast and that Westfield Matildas dream.
“I’m going to try and stay in the minds of the national team coaches,” Sayer said.
"Stanford is a completely new environment, new challenge for me so I think that'll help me push myself my game to the next level.
“Even if I'm out of the mix for a while, it doesn't really faze me. I just want to focus on my development so when I do come back [to Australia] and hopefully make a play for the next Olympics or World Cup, then I can really make a difference rather than just be a fringe player.”
“I really want to be in the team and make a difference.”