Three Kings United 2, Massey University 0
Newtown Park, Wellington, August 26 2012
Last weekend I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Massey University’s star striker Emma Boyack. Emma has represented New Zealand both at age group level and at the World University Games. Between 2005 and 2009 she took up a scholarship and played College Soccer for the Boise University Broncos in Idaho, USA. She picked up a bad knee injury on her return to New Zealand that required a nigh on two year hiatus but now she’s back better than ever and producing head turning performances that have greatly contributed to her club reaching its first ever Women’s Knockout Cup Final. Unfortunately the team fell at the final hurdle but after the game we chatted about what went wrong, the state and status of women’s football here and around the world, and what’s next for this talented New Zealander.
EG: So. The Game. I won’t dwell on it for too long but that can’t have been much fun, a bit frustrating for you?
EB: It was frustrating, I thought we probably should have got one early and I think if we had it would have changed the game, but once we let them get one it was really hard to come back. So I wouldn’t say it was not enjoyable but I did feel like I was defending a lot of the game and trying to get the ball back.
EG: It seemed like the first 15 minutes you were all over them and probably even for the first half you had most of the ball but they seemed to adapt to you quite quickly and mark you quite tightly…
EB: Yeah, when we played Claudelands in the semi-final they couldn’t adapt to us and that was how we won, they just didn’t have a Plan B. To be fair, because we are such a tactical team, Three Kings actually did really well to trap us down so it was really hard and once they did that it wasn’t really working for us anymore.
EG: Now that you’ve played two teams from the Northern League, is it possible to compare it with the Central League?
EB: Yeah, I guess I have a bit more knowledge now, because Three Kings are around mid-table, I thought we competed with them. Our league seems a bit more compact, the lowest team is not way down. If you look at some of the scores from the Auckland League, you’ve got to wonder – I‘m a bit suspicious about some of those lower teams getting beaten by scores like 11 or 12 nil!
EG: Yeah, the top three, four, five teams are alright but then there’s a huge gap to the Papamoas and the Western Springs…
EB: That doesn’t surprise me, so I guess there are a few heavyweights in Auckland, they’ve probably got a few more high quality teams than we do but we’re probably spread out a bit more.
EG: Did you feel a bit of motivation, given many seem to think the Northern League is ‘the be-all and end-all’, did you feel a bit of pressure to knock them over and chalk one up for the Central League?
EB: Yeah, that’s probably the most disappointing thing. For me it was awesome to be here, none of us have ever made a New Zealand final apart from Emily McColl playing for Capital, so it felt like this was our moment to do it, but it would have been awesome for that reason as well. Just to be in the final was such an achievement. Will we ever have a chance like this again? It would also have been cool to be the first team out of Palmerston North to win a final.
EG: Looking back, you’ve been playing at the top level in New Zealand for quite a while, how do you think the women’s game is progressing?
EB: I think it’s come a really long way. When I was 17 and playing in the National League, each team had their standout players and there were a few shaky ones in the team but now you’ve really got to have a good full team. But I do have a few things I’d change about how they do it. There is a lot of pressure to be up in Auckland but when you’re down here you don’t want to move. I can see that people have done it and it’s worked, it’s good to see they’ve got a group of young girls together in each year level because some of these young girls coming through now are just awesome like Annalie Longo playing today, she’s been to so many World Cups and I think that experience is why our national team is doing so well. But at the lower levels in the smaller cities there are still good players, so it’s just a shame when those people get held back. It’s been nice to come back home, and there are a couple of us who have come back, to add that experience and that’s why I think we’ve succeeded.
EG: With so many of the top players plying their trade overseas now, where does that leave the role of New Zealand clubs? Should our leagues be just about development or should there be a wider focus than that?
EB: Yeah, I guess the clubs are in a way a development league but I think because football is such a global game and because we’re such a small country, if you want to be the best you do have to go and I don’t have any problems with that. I went away and played for four years in America and that was the best thing for me. I’m enjoying playing back in New Zealand but I think they need to build it back up again. Last summer they made the National League a women’s league again but you could only have five over age players and that kind of detracted from all that build-up you have done. I think they are now stepping in and changing it for the better. Hopefully.
EG: What do you think the challenges are that women still face in the game, barriers to participation and development, that men don’t necessarily face?
EB: For the guys, there’s so much more money involved. For the women there are not as many opportunities because of that. There are not as many clubs or leagues around the world you can try and play in and I don’t know much about the political side of it all but it seems to me like the men do get more money spent on them. That’s my assumption, I could be wrong! But you look at the men’s national league and what they’ve done there, the women’s national league just kinda flunked you know…
EG: Is there any sort of one big thing that you would change about the game as a whole to improve women’s football?
EB: I think it needs to be promoted more. Get it out there. It’s such a great game to play. We’re competing against netball, but can you really go as far in netball? I don’t think people who don’t play soccer understand that it is so global, you can be such a good netballer here and that’s it, you end up playing your whole time in New Zealand. I think that’s the cool thing about football.
EG: What would you say to people who have never gone out and watched women’s football, that don’t even know it exists, to get them excited enough to come out and support the game?
EB: I’ve heard a lot of comments from people recently about how they love watching, not just our team but women’s football in general, and I find the same, I find it a more enjoyable game to watch. The men are so structured, playing it a lot around the back, and also you never see women just Hollywood over! I was talking to my uncle just now and he said the same thing, he said it’s great to see how the girls get knocked around and no one fell over. We’ve got a couple of guys who come and watch us, I just found out yesterday that they’ve been watching us all season. Nobody knows who they are but they just like coming to watch the way we play.
EG: Yeah, it’s really attacking, and you’re right, you never see dives, there’s no histrionics, you just get on with the game and it’s great. It’s so refreshing!
EB: That’s good to hear.
EG: With the Football Ferns and Junior Football Ferns giving such strong performances at the moment, how good can we get internationally?
EB: That’s a tough one because some of those countries… I lived in America, there are just so many girls and it’s such a big country – It’s hard to compete with. But with the Junior Football Ferns, they’ve got a big game coming up and a big chance to go further, I think we could make a semi! I think that’s reachable for New Zealand.
EG: With the Football Ferns being 20th in the world at the moment, people just don’t understand how incredibly good that is. If the men were at 20, it would be on the front page of every paper…
EB …and that’s what I mean, I don’t think people appreciate how good an achievement that is when we’re competing against so many other good countries. So that in itself is amazing really.
EG: Moving on to your experience in Idaho… What’s Idaho like?
EB: It’s cool!
EG: Ryan Nelsen recently talked about college football, soccer over there, he said that the facilities there are up to Premier League standard and that more New Zealand youngsters should be plying their trade in the states on those university scholarships rather than trying to break into Europe. Do you have any thoughts on that?
EB: Yeah, I’ve heard the opposite in terms of people not leaving to go over there but oh, it was the best thing for me, and he’s right, the facilities are amazing. You get treated so well. At our university we had a massive football stadium for the gridiron team and all the athletes trained together in a fantastic weights room. We had weights coaches, an athletics track, we had our own field and facilities for soccer, an indoor and outdoor tennis facility, swimming pool, basketball stadium, the list goes on.
EG: …and you get to get an education while you are there.
EB: Yeah, and it’s really cool that they value education as well. You do have to look after yourself. You go to weights in the morning and then to class and then to soccer practice and yeah, it’s amazing. It was nice to go over there and they just see the athletes as something special. It’s nice to get the respect. You put in all this hard work and over here, like I say people don’t appreciate how well we do. It was great over there. They play a different style though, it’s very physical and fast.
EG: Have you been following the demise of the Women’s Professional Soccer League over there? Apparently it’s the second time in nine years that a women’s equivalent of MLS has gone under. Any thoughts on what’s behind that?
EB: I haven’t been following it. But the cool thing about America in terms of women’s sport, I don’t know if you’ve heard of ‘Title 9’, but it was brought in ten-fifteen years ago, and it allowed female and male athletes everything the same at the universities. For example there has to be the same number of scholarships to go to female and men, in terms of when we’d go on trips we’d get treated the same so we’d stay in these nice hotels, everything was the same. The men, even though the gridiron players I’m sure got some sort of special benefits, raked in all the money because they filled up our stadium to over 30,000, but we still got the benefits. So I think that’s cool in terms of the college system, but in terms of the professional it’s probably run differently.
EG: That sounds great, one of the common complaints I hear about the situation in New Zealand is that the facilities are all set up for men, the changing rooms have all got urinals and you don’t have the same standard of equipment…
EB: Yeah, exactly. For our team even though we’ve done very well this year, we’ve always had a hard time getting funding being a university club, but it wasn’t until the very end this season we finally got some hoodies given to us and it’s a shame people sort of jump on the bandwagon a little bit.
EG: I look at the Claudelands Facebook page, and you know, they make a big deal out of their results every week. Their women’s team is in the Premier League while their men’s first team is playing federation football, yet the men’s results are always first…
EB: Really? That’s shocking, yeah I think we definitely get valued more at our club over the men but even so, it’s a shame when you are doing just as well as the guys or better!
EG: Last question, what are your goals now, where to from here?
EB: I’ve had to re-evaluate my goals a bit because when I came back from America I had a knee injury and had to have surgery. I was out for nearly two years and when I came back last year I just played for a local club and was sort of struggling to get my feet back on the ground. But this year’s been really successful for me I suppose so I’ve just rethought about not being in the game. I’ve thought about playing National League. I don’t know, you just put so much effort in and I guess to finally get a bit of reward today, even though we didn’t win, has made me rethink that it is worth it so I’ll keep going and just see. But I don’t want to have to move up to Auckland!
EG: Do the selectors still get around the country and see you down here?
EB: Urgh I don’t know, I’m sure there would have been people here today but I mean I’m 26 now and I haven’t played in a New Zealand team since I was in the Under 17s and we never went anywhere back then because there was no money. I don’t even know who the coaches are anymore and they really build up the young ones in the talent centres so for people like me who are out of the talent centre programme it leaves you with nowhere to go.
EG: Well you’ve been getting some great press on this cup run with all your goals so hopefully…
EB: Yeah I’ll just keep going and see what happens!
EG: Thanks very much for your time, it’s been great.
EB: Thanks, nice to meet you.
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.