With two weeks to go until the start of the NRFL, last weekend was about the right time to have a crack at another player interview to whet the appetite for the season ahead.
Helen Collins debuted for the Football Ferns just over a year ago and has appeared seventeen times since for the New Zealand Women’s National Team, ranked 16 in the world, including in victories over Scotland, Italy (ahem…), Switzerland, Brazil, China, Finland and an historic draw with world number 1 ranked USA.
Both before and during kicking ass on the world stage, she was and is an absolute goal machine in the NRFL, netting a whopping 38 goals for Claudelands Rovers last season and, if you think that’s impressive, she bagged 52 in 2012!
I caught up with her in between matches at the Auckland City FC U17 Youth Tournament, where she was nurturing the next generation of Helen Collins’s as the coach of the Claudelands entry…
EG: Just to start off and by way of intro, I want to throw a few rough stats at you that I put together on the back of an envelope… Ok, so Lionel Messi… averages 0.8 goals per game. Christiano Ronaldo 0.7, Luis Suarez 0.6, Marta (from the Brazil Women’s National Team) 0.8, Abby Wambach 0.7, Mia Hamm 0.6… Meanwhile over the past three seasons of club football, your average is approximately 2 goals per game!
HC: Ha ha!
EG: So I guess my question is, why are you so good? How do you manage to score so many goals?
HC: Ah… I don’t know! I don’t think about it, I just run… I just go for goal, and more often than not it’s the team I’m playing in that are able to I guess set me up with the ball and put me in the right positions and goal scoring opportunities.
EG: You started playing football when you were 5 I read somewhere! Do you remember what attracted you to the game in the first place?
HC: Yeah! I had an older brother who’s almost two years older than me so he was playing and I just kind of followed him into it. Growing up in a remote area [Whitianga] I always played on the same teams as him so I always played with the older players, the older boys, to make the travel easier for the parents.
EG: You’ve been at it for a long time now, what keeps you motivated? Does it ever get old?
HC: A lot of it comes down to the team you’re on. If the girls are great and you get on with them you’re always going to enjoy it. The results don’t matter as long as you’re playing with the right players. Other factors come in like coaching and as the season goes on you do look forward to getting your weekends free, but generally it seems to be the right length. Harder when you’ve got players who are out with injuries and that sort of thing…
EG: And you’ve played a bit of summer football as well, what’s it like having football all year round…
HC: Yeah, this year I didn’t play it just because I wanted a break. I did it last year and I guess my motivation wasn’t really there so I thought this year I’m really going to have a break because I hadn’t really had much time off so it was quite good. I enjoyed it, I got to go away and do different things I wouldn’t normally do. To get a break you generally have to say no and something has to give.
EG: It’s been over 12 months now since you debuted for the Football Ferns. What have you learned from that experience of being in that environment?
HC: You certainly learn the next level of football. How competitive it is. How there’s not much difference between a lot of the players and a lot of the teams and it’s the smaller things that really count. Once you’re on the field you just do what you do and play your strengths and things will happen.
EG: You’ve played in a team that’s beaten Brazil in a football game! Not many people have done that! What’s the secret to beating Brazil?
HC: Ahhhhh play better than them!
HC: I guess we just kind of worked out their strengths and weaknesses and kind of nullified their strengths and we were able to play how we wanted to play. They didn’t really… I guess they may have come into the game going “ah, it’s New Zealand”, you know, knowing how we used to play but not how we play now, so that probably helped us a lot.
EG: What did winning the premiership with Claudelands two years ago mean? First premiership in that club’s history and first time it’s been out of Auckland!
HC: The best thing was we did it with me and another girl as player coaches. So for us to be able to do that and the whole team brought into it, we didn’t actually have to coach them, everyone knew exactly where they stood, and everyone really wanted to do it and for us to be able to do that as a team without anyone coming to say let’s do this, but us doing it as a group of individuals was awesome. There were people who wanted to come in halfway through and take it over and we said nah we’re going to keep going how we’re going and it worked out. We didn’t realise at the time all the history about it, we set a few records or equalled a few records…
EG: A criticism of the Northern Women’s Premier comp has been that some of the games can be a bit one sided. Do you see that as a problem?
HC: It depends. Yes and no. I guess because more often than not we’re on the good side so for us it’s good because it gives us a chance to give some of the younger players a run out. It can be negative I guess for the other teams but then again, should some of those players be playing at that level? There’s always a question. We have players leaving us who don’t quite make our first team who don’t want to work for it but they go to these other teams where they can start and the consequence is perhaps they’re going to get beat by quite a few goals each week and they’re just going to have to live with the choices they make.
EG: How’s Claudelands shaping up this season? Can you let us in on any secrets on who’s coming and who’s going?
HC: Ahhhhh, I guess the only thing I’ll tell you is we’ve got a new coach this year, Alan Witt, he coached our second team last year and he’s stepping up to the role this year. Most of the team is pretty consistent. Perhaps we’ll get some of the younger players coming through now. One or two of the older players have left so…
EG: There was a statement from New Zealand Football in March last year where they said “We’re aiming for women’s elite football to be played, officiated, coached, and managed by females by 2021”. Aside from I guess probably a bit of relief that they think women’s football should be played by women, in terms of coached and officiated, do you go along with that? Do you think that’s the right goal to have?
HC: I guess it depends if the female coaching staff are better than what we’ve got… In New Zealand, at the moment… referees… I wouldn’t agree with that. Certainly a lot of our Northern League games and National League games that are refereed by female referees are often left to get out of hand a bit. Some of the players get away with a lot and the refs don’t really do a lot to stamp things out whereas a lot of the male refs generally do control the game a bit better.
EG: Do you think it’s worth the governing body investing resources in getting more women up to speed in refereeing and coaching or do you think the money is better spent in other areas?
HC: No, it would certainly be good. The hardest thing is retaining them. It would certainly help having more players or ex-players stepping into the referee’s role. They understand a lot more but I guess there’s not a lot who really want to get in there. Perhaps there needs to be more incentive there for them to really want to do it.
EG: Last question, what are your goals for the next few years? Are you happy playing club footy in New Zealand? Any plans to go overseas?
HC: Nah, I’m happy to stay where I am. I quite like the balance I’ve got between teaching and football, being able to still enjoy it and not get burnt out. So nah, I’m quite happy where I am right now.
EG: Thanks so much for talking to me, that it was great!
HC: That’s alright!
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.