To mark International Women’s Day Matildas legend Melissa Barbieri shares with the PFA the battle for fairness, the potential of the women’s game and why the nation’s female players should no longer accept excuses.

Q. In 2002 you made your debut for the Matildas, did you have any insight at the time of what life would be like as one of the country’s top female players?

MB: It was definitely a case of being very excited that I was selected. Being part of the Matildas was my lifelong dream and you look at your selection like that but in saying that I was very lucky that I had had a full time job that I had been able to save a lot of money prior to becoming a Matilda. I had also lived at home for a long time so the part about finances never really dawned on me until I meet my long time boyfriend and now husband, we wanted to move out and start to do things on our own. It was only then that I realised that impact of being a Matilda was having on my financial position.
Q. Were there times when you questioned whether it was all worth it?  

MB: If you asked my husband he would have thought of that a whole lot earlier than I did. I kind of shared the load with my husband on everything it was always pretty 50/50 until I had Holly (Barbieri’s daughter). Early on he was probably the one wondering how long we could keep it up for. It was such an honour to represent my country so I did whatever it took and the money was never really looked at as a problem because I could still work but that position of still being able to work was reflected in our position on the world ladder. All of us could work, which meant we were not training enough, which meant that we weren’t getting good enough results to climb the ladder. It was frustrating but we were lucky that we had a group of players that we could overcome that, but you should not be having to overcome issues like that, you should be given what you need to be successful.


Q. How hard did you have to fight to improve the working conditions for the Matildas?

MB: It was certainly something that was highlighted in the first CBA agreement (2010). The FFA had not thought of a quite a few things like laundry. They had always paid the men enough that they could get their own laundry done they hadn’t really considered that for us. Until you were sat in a room where one of your teammates was in the bath washing their clothes, like I remember doing on numerous occasions, you don’t really understand how tough we had it.
Q. How important do you think it was that the players took a stand in 2015 and why were you so willing to support the cause publicly despite it not going to benefit you personally?

MB: It was critical. When you are looking to change things you have to be a unified team. If I had said these girls just want too much it would have been a blatant lie because if everybody put themselves in the players’ shoes, they had not been paid for two months, they would have felt the same. The players were bringing to light things that needed to be sorted. As players we want to leave the game in a better state than we found it for those who come after you.
Q. What do you believe still needs to addressed and should be a priority?

MB: One of the things you have to look at is the amount of advertising and merchandise, which are a given for the male side of the game but that is not being done for the female side of the game. We want to know that women’s football is a priority and that it’s just as important to clubs and the federation as the men’s game is. At clubs we should not have radio stations that cover the men and not the women, if clubs are looking for sponsors they should not just look for sponsors for the male players but also the women.
Q. The standard on the pitch in the W-League has never been higher but what is the level of workplace conditions for the players?

MB: At certain clubs there are high standards but at others they are very low. You have to understand that each and every club has their own predicament but if they are not going to put the necessary effort in then don’t afford them the luxury of having a W-League team. I’m sure there are heaps of clubs in the wider area that have the ability to become W-League clubs. Canberra is a stand alone club and look at what they have managed to do. If clubs are not taking their W-League team seriously, although it is quite sad, you have to take it away and give it to the people that want it and want to build the brand of women’s football.
Q. Has the time come for no more excuses for women’s football?

MB: By not prioritising women’s football some clubs are holding the game and their own club back. They say they have enough on their plate with the men’s team, but they are missing an opportunity to improve the club. They should not try to skimp on women’s football simply because they know we love the game and will continue to play. When you have teams changing on the side of the road it is just not good enough.


Q. Tomorrow marks International Women’s Day, is Australian football doing enough to promote gender equity?

MB: In what country does this happen? We are a first world country and we should be leading by example. We are a sport that can be everything that every other sport would love to be. We have potential that other codes would kill for, we already have people at the ground level loving the game, we just have to raise the bar at the top level so people look at football as an actual career path.