To mark International Women’s Day, Matildas legend Joey Peters shares with the PFA the enormous sacrifices her generation made to represent their nation, why today’s players had to make a stand and the importance of gender equity.

“At 17 I made the decision that I  would do anything possible to try to become a professional footballer,” says Matildas legend Joey Peters. “At the time there was very few female professional players, only a handful.” Peters would reach the pinnacle of the game. She represented the Matildas on over 100 occasions, was the team’s long serving Vice Captain and scored 28 times before retiring in 2009.

Despite her truly remarkable career she would have to supplement her extremely modest Matildas earnings with work outside football. Long-term secure employment was near impossible. “I had to give up a lot and the only real option was jobs that fitted around football, which was usually manual work or temping,”said the Novocastrian. “I had a bread crumb lifestyle and I didn’t want anything fancy so I managed to survive, but it was far from easy to make ends meet.”

For Peters, it was a choice she was willing to make. The question of whether she would do it all again is answered with a swift but qualified, yes. “Because of how much I loved the game I would do the same tomorrow, but now I know that we should not have had to sacrifice so much.”

The sacrifices made life after football equally, if not more, challenging. Upon hanging up her boots the former midfielder was confronted with a deep sense of having been part of a one sided relationship.

“When I retired, Shane Warne and Glen McGrath did so at the same time and I remember them saying ‘it was time to give back to the game.’ That was funny for me because I felt like it was the opposite. I had given so much to the game, my life and my battered body, and I felt like what can the game actually give me now? I was quite severely depressed for a number of years and I continue to battle with it because it was such a tough transition.”

The difficulties she faced in life post football convinced her that the interests of the players and the game were not being served by continuing in the same vein. “You realise you are not helping the game by allowing it to happen, you have to eventually make a stand.”

Since the first Matildas collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in 2010 they had made progress but the players’ stand came in 2015 after the team’s historic World Cup performance in Canada. For Peters, the players had to take action not just for themselves but for the game, and for those who would follow them.

“At some point you realise that just always giving and not receiving anything in return is not helping our sport or the young women that will follow you,” said the former Newcastle Jets W-League star. “I’m coaching now and I want young female players to know that football can offer them an actual career.”

The Matildas CBA that followed their action has, according to Peters, made significant progress but the issue of gender equity is yet to be addressed.

“For me it was a victory but you still feel like there is such a way to go. The girls went for the minimum wage. It highlights the disparity, we in Australia love our sport and at the moment the value we put on women’s sport is not enough. Is being a professional footballer for young Australian girls a real option? I still don’t think we are there for a lot reasons and they encompass more than just money. So much more needs to be done.”

With today marking International Women’s Day, Peters said now was the time to commit to genuine progress for the women’s game. “The stand of the Matildas showed how hard women in many occupations have to fight to make headway. The players are the ones driving the game forward; everybody needs to embrace the potential of the women’s game. The game will be poorer if we choose not to.”