By Glenda Kwek
She sprints down the side of the field, evading two players chasing after her. Running towards the centre of the pitch, she sidesteps another defender and takes a hard swing at the ball. As it sails into the top right-hand corner of the goal, she yells "I love football!"
But this "football" isn't rugby, union or AFL. It's the other footy code soccer, or as purists would call it, football the world game.
Our awareness of football has been dominated by the men's game we've all heard the names Ronaldo, Maradona, Pele and, of course, Beckham. But women have been playing this sport for as long as men, and the popularity of women's football is growing.
Since the success of the Socceroos at the 2006 World Cup, and of the Matildas at the 2007 World Cup, more men and women are playing the game in friendlies, office competitions and amateur leagues around Australia. And the film Bend It Like Beckham
, starring Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley, didn't hurt either!
One football fitness program that's been popular with women is SoccerFit. It introduces participants to football with training sessions and group games, and at least 200 men and women take part at 15 venues across Sydney and also in Ulverstone, Tasmania.
"We remain particularly proud of our very impressive record as regards female participation," says Liam O'Duibhir, the director of SoccerFit.
"One of the issues highlighted in the 2006 Senate inquiry into women in sport was the difficulty many women faced in maintaining long-term involvement in a fitness or sporting activity.
"Judging by our success to date, SoccerFit offers the kind of flexibility that suits many women, and by basing the program on a rotating eight-week cycle, it doesn't require too great a long term commitment that might negatively impact on, for example, family life," says Liam.
Worth the effort
It can take some time to learn to use your feet instead of your hands like most other sports. But once you get used to having a ball at your feet, playing football is surprisingly addictive and enjoyable.
And it's certainly great for burning calories too. In a 90-minute game on a full-sized football pitch, you could be running up to 10km not too bad for 22 people kicking about a piece of stretched leather!
Fitness programs like the ones SoccerFit run also ease you into learning the basic skills you need for the game, such as dribbling, passing, crossing and shooting.
"The highlight is our 20-minute SoccerFit game experience which is fast-moving and, through some simple game rules, focuses on a 'receive pass and move-into-space' theme," says Liam.
"This has an amazing effect in that many people who have never played football in their lives, can very quickly adopt a playing technique that is popular even at the highest levels of the game. No wonder they get hooked!"
One SoccerFit participant who has gone on to join an amateur league team is Joanne Cooper.
"I am a Sydney FC member and love to watch but have never had the opportunity to play," says Joanne.
"Football is a fantastic game to watch but even better to get stuck in! It is good for the mind to be thinking about tactics, great for the body as you get fit quickly, and great for the spirit as the team camaraderie is fantastic.
"The women's teams and competitions are all very professional and well-run with so many different options around. Women are also very welcome as supporters of professional clubs, lots of us regularly attend Sydney FC games, which is a great way to learn more and really immerse yourself in the sport."
Do you need to spend lots on equipment?
The answer is no. All you need is between $60 to $200 to buy a pair of boots and a ball, and you're ready to play the game. Throw in shin guard, long socks, and a jersey, and hey presto, you'll be ready to bend it like Matildas captain, Cheryl Salisbury!
You can find out more about SoccerFit at www.soccerfit.com.au
Visit Football Australia's directory
of State and Territory Federations for more details on your local clubs.