As Indigenous Football Week 2020 focuses on pathways for Indigenous Australians, the PFA revisited the following words penned by PFA Executive Member and Matildas goalkeeper Lydia Williams. Williams, who has forged a fascinating path from Kalgoorlie to Canberra and Houston to London during her professional career, shared her journey as an Indigenous player for the PFA’s 2018 State of Play Report.

Growing up in Kalgoorlie, I didn’t hear anything about football, it was always AFL. I actually grew up playing AFL with the Indigenous kids out in the desert. 

It was rough and tumble so I wasn’t afraid to dive and get hurt or be on the ground. When I started playing football, I didn’t want to be goalkeeper at first, but it was just a natural fit throughout my career. 

The West Coast Eagles players would come into Kalgoorlie. Most of the boys I grew up with went on to play AFL at some level. But obviously there wasn’t an AFL competition for girls, so I would play every other sport but that. I started playing soccer at lunch time at school. 

But I didn’t know there was a pathway to a career for it. 

I moved to Canberra when I was 11. There wasn’t really any AFL there, so I was playing football. If it wasn’t for my mum getting a job in Canberra, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. 

To be honest I didn’t know who the Matildas were until I made my first Matildas camp! So I was kind of naïve and I was going along with the punches each year until my first tour with the national team when I was 16.

Through football I have had the opportunity to study, to grow my knowledge and kind of just get out there. You can see another part of the world, learn about other cultures and make relationships that are going to last a lifetime. 

I’ve always loved travelling. It’s something that I’ve done from a really young age and continued with football. I’ve got to see so many amazing places in the world that I would have otherwise not been able to see or afforded to go to. I could probably go to any place in the world and know someone. 

Football gives you a sense of community. However, it’s very hard to build a relationship with an Aboriginal community. The AFL have done well whereas football hasn’t reached that yet. One camp or one appearance once a year is not going to build that relationship or encourage kids to play. 

Another challenge is that [Indigenous kids] do not want to leave home. When my mum told me we were leaving Kalgoorlie for Canberra, I locked the door to my room and said ‘I want new parents!’. 

So if we try to encourage these kids to play the sport, they are going to have the exact same reaction. 

Indigenous people are really athletic and when they take control of their abilities and ambitions, they can do anything. I think they have a unique skillset that is only inherited through their culture. A lot of that is untapped. You can see from the AFL what they can bring. I think it’s cool that Indigenous footballers have an x-factor that no one can coach.