Two weeks ago, the captain of the Football Ferns Abby Erceg announced her retirement from international football-at the age of 27. Enzo has already responded to it in a post here, but I wish to respond to the response.
Abby Erceg has been, for almost as long as I can really remember, one of my role models as a footballer. She adorned every Small Whites poster I was handed at games, every Player of the Day certificate I ever saw and on the occasions I would walk past her at QBE Stadium, I was in awe. So how did I feel when I heard the news? I was angry. I was angry that someone of her calibre had to give up what they love just to make a point that shouldn’t, in 2017 in the context of the Football Ferns (by which I mean being ranked 19th in the world) need to be made.
However, I don’t want to attack anyone here, because I believe that there are good intentions on all sides of this issue. The issue with New Zealand Football is not mine to discuss. I do want to talk about how people reacted to Abby’s protest-more specifically, this article by Mark Reason.
We ought to start with the title-and this one is a classic: “Football Ferns’ Abby Erceg has forgotten what sport is all about”. I can sum that up in one word: condescending. Reason, in the space of a sentence, has stripped Erceg’s protest of any merit and belittled her cause. Yet, that is not even unusual when we talk about women’s sport. It’s ridiculous and it’s not fair. This is the captain of a national team of our most-played sport, who has announced her retirement (at least 3 years early) because she says things are not working. We should be listening, if not acting. We should under no circumstances be seeking to dismiss her appeal.
Reason goes on to say a lot of objectionable things, including his opening line of “Abby Erceg (…) retired from international sport this week because she wanted more money”. That is a very over-simplified misrepresentation of events that casts Erceg in a light she does not deserve. He also talks about how the “amount of football the Ferns play” is the “real problem” and says the majority of the team are “semi-professional”. Both of those statements are wrong. It begs the question: did Reason even bother to research the Football Ferns before he wrote his piece? For if he had he would have seen their world ranking. If he had taken a moment to listen to Abby Erceg’s interview he would have heard her say how so many more of the Ferns play professionally overseas now. If he had, he could’ve at least poked a long stick at empathy. It would seem he did none of these things.
My main purpose in writing this, however, is not to list all of the ignorant things Reason wrote. The reason I won’t do that is because what happened two weeks ago will have a massive effect on female footballers my age and younger, and we need to talk about that. Imagine, for a moment, the fallout if Richie McCaw had announced he was retiring from the All Blacks 5 years earlier. Imagine all of the disillusioned young players on Saturdays. This is the same phenomenon.
To reiterate my earlier point, this is the player who has been the face of the Ferns for years. She has been what so many of my team mates and friends have aspired to. Abby Erceg has embodied the ethos of the Ferns: play for the love of the game. Two weeks ago, football in this country suffered a far worse blow than a radio interview. Young footballers from the tip of Northern’s territory to the far reaches of Football South’s domain lost a mentor and a role model. If we find no other reason to start trying to develop this game and make changes for the better, then let that be it. If Mark Reason thinks her reasons are monetary then he has completely misunderstood the situation. If anyone thinks this isn’t a sad day for little girls who love the beautiful game, then they have misunderstood it too. I respect Abby’s decision and I support it entirely. I also want change.
We need to start ensuring that said change doesn’t have to come at the expense of our heroines.
A youth grade footballer and lover of the game since the age of 4. Living and playing for club and school in Auckland and loving every second on the pitch (apart from the end of a losing match).