Football Stories: Westfield Matildas in Europe
In the latest edition of Football Stories, four Westfield Matildas playing in four different countries share their experiences in preparing for their 2020/21 domestic seasons.
It’s an incredible statistic; there are currently 25 Australian players in Europe who have played or been called up for the Westfield Matildas in the past 12 months.
Those players are spread over six different nations and 18 different clubs.
From England to Spain, across to Sweden and Norway, the Westfield Matildas are currently in demand.
Hayley Raso (Everton, England), Aivi Luik (Sevilla, Spain), Laura Brock (EA Guingamp, France) and Amy Harrison (PSV Eindhoven, Netherlands) have all taken advantage of the high regard of Australian players to ply their trade overseas.
For Raso, the move to England has not been as straight forward as may have been anticipated when she signed with Everton back in January.
Olympics Qualifiers, a broken nose and COVID-19 all meant that it took the forward almost six months before she could finally settle into her new home.
“It's taken me a long time to get over here, so I was pretty excited to finally get here after signing in January,” said Raso.
Preparations have been going really well. We've had a few preseason friendlies which have gone well, and it's just so nice to be around the team and back training and playing again.”
The most successful player in Westfield W-League history, for Aivi Luik Europe is a familiar stomping ground.
A seasoned campaigner, Luik has spent almost a decade playing on the continent in multiple countries including Denmark, Iceland, England, Sweden, Norway and Spain.
Luik is back in Spain this season and the midfielder expressed her happiness at returning to the Primera División.
“I always wanted to come back to Spain and play in Spain again,” she said in the catch up.
“I didn't get the opportunity to do that last year. I'm grateful for where I was last year as well. But I'm really happy to be back here in Spain, playing Spanish football because I love the style of football they play.
“I think it suits me as a player in the way that I play and also the national team. It just felt right for me to be back here in this country playing in this league again, to prepare myself as best as I can for next year, in the hopes of securing a spot [at the Tokyo Olympics].”
Culturally Spain proves to be a great fit for the adventurous Luik. Not only is there the history but Sevilla’s international contingent – which includes players from Nigeria, Namibia, France and Colombia - also allows a variety of experiences.
The Colombian girls are now teaching me Bachata and so you know, we have a few giggles before training or whenever.”
“It's just created this really cool atmosphere off the field that translate transfers onto the field.”
Next door in France, Luik’s good friend Laura Brock is on the other end of the spectrum and getting just her second look at European football.
Brock is on the comeback trail after suffering a foot injury just prior to the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2019.
While a devastating turn of events, the effervescent defender is determined to return to the pitch, even if there have been some setbacks.
“For me, I really think it's about getting back on the field and focusing on those little steps,” Brock said.
“[It’s about] increasing my fitness, getting my technical game back and I guess proving to myself and everyone else that my body can still handle it. If Aivi’s body can handle it at 35, then surely at 30-year-old I'm a spring chicken and I should be fine!
“I think it's just about getting back there and playing the game and I am in a space where I'm really loving it. I’m loving playing and loving training and ready to do all that I can to put myself in the best position to get to the Olympics.”
The Olympics are also a goal on the horizon for midfielder Amy Harrison. The 24-year-old had an injury free and impactful stint with the Western Sydney Wanderers in Season 12, and she is hoping to build on it at Dutch side PSV Eindhoven.
“When I look at where I am right now and how I am as a person and as a player, I think for sure, this is where I'm meant to be,” Harrison stated.
I think it's almost two months’ time now and I think I've learned a lot as a player. It really suits me as a player which is a nice and just as a person, I think I've really learned a lot about myself and growing as a person.
“All in all, it's been so positive so far and it really does feel like home away from home now. It's nice to be settled and enjoying it and in a good place.
“Looking forward to a season that's about to start … and to go from there.”
Like a majority of her teammates, Harrison’s football education has mainly been in the Westfield W-League. While she has departed for now, the midfielder acknowledges how the league has set her up for this next football chapter.
“I think it was important. I think you can say that it will play a part in everyone's career,” said the Sydney native.
"I think growing up and having the exposure and getting quality games in the W-League and learning along the way at home with your family was obviously a great time. I think now everyone's ready to step up and go abroad and learn new things.
I'm sure the Westfield W-League is still going to be in good hands with the young talent coming through and now it's their time to shine and go along that journey.”
For the quartet, their journey has taken them to the current hive of global women’s football. While Aussie women have been making the European trek since the early 90s, it has never been in these sheer numbers.
It’s a source of quiet pride that Australians, their national teammates, are making their mark in global football.
“It just speaks volumes to how far the Matildas have come,” said Brock.
“Even in my time, I feel like it's just it's come so far and that's because of those players in those early years who sort of paved the way for us.”
For us to be able to come over here and then obviously the Matildas are doing well in the world stages as started getting some recognition. That we can actually compete in these leagues and be starting players and show the world what we're capable of.
“It's cool, we're going to be picking up bits and pieces from all these different European countries and bringing it together. I can’t wait to see what happens.”