By Kathryn Gill, PFA Co-Chief Executive

The 2022/23 A-League Women’s season emphasised three enduring themes: generational legacy, the power of grassroots connection and future opportunity.

Firstly, as the season draws to a close this Sunday with the Grand Final, the game farewells long-serving league legends Tara Andrews, Teigen Allen, Claire Coelho, Jessica Rasschaert, Kim Carroll and Ellie Brush. 

We wish each of the players the very best as they commence the next chapter of their lives and careers. 

At this time of the season, these farewells are common occurrences. Rarely, though, have individual players witnessed – and led – such seismic shifts in Australian women’s football as this generation of players.

Kim Carroll was the second woman appointed to the PFA Executive (in 2016) and would emerge, alongside Ellie Brush, as a central contributor to the growth of the ALW competition. They are two players who spearheaded change and have played their part in elevating the ALW competition above the parapet, into the mainstream and onto the path to professionalism. 

Ellie and Kim’s commitment to their profession and their fellow professionals was enshrined with the establishment of a Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2017. It was a CBA that locked in the first minimum wage and a commitment to a full home and away season.

Through multiple iterations, the current CBA has formed the basis for real progress. 

It has delivered the highest ever investment in player payments this season (and more than double those in 2017), a full home and away season from 2023/24, and expansion which will see the introduction of two additional teams from 2024. 

Players like Kim and Ellie were not merely spectators to this evolution. Using their voice and experiences, they actively ensured generational change occurred. We thank them for their enduring efforts that have transformed the competition.

Secondly, the competition welcomed Western United for their inaugural season: a team anchored in grassroots and community connection.

While possessing game-changing players within your team – like Chloe Logarzo, Jess McDonald and Hillary Beall – is a compelling catalyst for success, the triumph of Western United is anchored in the grassroots connection they have built. Acting with foresight, the Club established foundations through their community and grassroots ties to Calder United and built a dedicated pathway into the professional game.  

The club demonstrates the purpose and power inherent in integrated pathways and building clubs from the ground-up, rather than the bump-in and bump-out models that have historically characterised women’s professional football in Australia. It is a model that member federations and professional clubs must strive to achieve.

Finally, this ALW season flows into the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’: the FIFA Women’s World Cup. In less than three months this event could shape the future of women’s football and provides incredible opportunity for the players and the game.

That opportunity lies in clubs like Western United, the dynasty that Sydney FC have built over the past three seasons and, individually, players such as Cortnee Vine. This season, Cortnee has been hypnotic. Her speed, her touch and her tenacity has seen her cement a spot in the Matildas, demonstrating again the quality and talent – and importance – of the ALW and its players to our international success. 

So many other players have demonstrated the strength of this league – several of whom were this week unveiled in the PFA’s ALW team of the season, of which Cortnee was named captain. 

The product on the pitch has been excellent. The scintillating Semi-Final between Melbourne City and reigning champions Melbourne Victory was a crowning season moment. That match, a 3-3 draw decided on penalties, will go down as one of the most captivating and exhausting encounters in ALW history. 

It was a match worthy of a primetime draw card in a world class stadium, rising on the shoulders of the soon to be played World Cup. Instead, it was a match seen by few and relegated to an AFL pitch in south-east Melbourne.

That match was emblematic of the two-speed narrative clouding the progress of women’s football: before we can blink, we will have the world’s best players on our doorstep, but our sport seems unable to harness this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The ALW season, for all its brilliance, progress and benefit to the Matildas, could have delivered a more impactful breakthrough in such an important year for the sport. 

With an 18-match regular season completed and just the Grand Final decider remaining, a question still looms large over the competition and the game: how can Australian football harness the Women’s World Cup to turbocharge the A-Leagues?

What is the strategy to ensure that we have a league that can offer full-time employment through a professional structure that galvanises all the unique parts of the women’s game? 

What is the structural change we can implement to the way we approach women’s football?

Will we continue to retrofit women’s football into an existing, traditional structure, or do we have the humility to start again and build a system that compliments and honours the way that women want to engage? 

Getting this right and offering a point of difference will set us apart. It will ignite the opportunity to entice the world’s best to the A-Leagues.

In closing, we wish our Western United and Sydney FC members all the best for the A-League Women’s Grand Final. We know they will be doing everything within their power to ensure this game is unmissable and sets the tone for what is to come in ALW season 2023/24 – and whets the appetite for the world’s biggest sporting event.