• W-League players at the launch of the 2016/17 season (Getty Images)
The 8th of September, 2015 is a date in the Australian football calendar that I will never forget.
By
11 Sep 2017 - 6:04 PM  UPDATED 11 Sep 2017 - 6:04 PM

On that day, ten Matildas players gathered in Sydney’s Hyde Park to announce that they would be going on strike and subsequently withdrawing from their upcoming training camp for a clash against the World Champions in the United States.

As a result, coach Alen Stajcic was left standing at Valentine Park without a group to train and torn between his allegiances to his employers and his country - an unenviable predicament for anyone in the modern era.

The decision to withdraw came after a very public and toxic round of negotiations between Football Federation Australia and Professional Footballers Australia had reached an impasse.

The players had quite simply had enough and rightfully so.

For too long the Matildas had been treated as an after-thought by the governing body and dare I say, a box that needed to be ticked in spite of the team’s meteoric rise on the world stage.

The sight of one of our generation's most gifted footballers, Katrina Gorry being reduced to tears as she confessed that she was "considering retiring in the next few years" because she couldn’t "afford to live" stirred a profound rage in me and like that day, it’s a feeling I won’t easily forget.

W-League breaks new ground with pay deal
The W-League will take a giant stride towards professionalism in its 10th season with $10,000 minimum playing contracts.

In the days after the news of the scandal had made the front pages of the newspapers, I found myself at a junior girls competitive football match down the road from my home.

A parent approached me to express their distaste over what had played out in the headlines and when I looked down at his beautiful six-year-old daughter, I asked her the same question I do of all children in these environments.

"Do you want to be footballer when you grow up?"

Her large, almond-coloured eyes became awash with sadness, as she looked away shyly and said: "I want to but daddy says I can’t."

Seeing the look of unmitigated shock splashed across my face, her father moved quickly to interject.

"It’s not that I don’t want her to it’s that I know there’s no future in it for her. Look at what’s happening with the Matildas. I don’t want her to live a life of struggle."

Not only was the current Australian footballing landscape facing a grim future but the aftershocks of this disaster were reverberating throughout the grassroots level - the worst possible scenario.

Fast forward to September 2017 and a lot has changed, only this time, I am beyond delighted to say that it’s for the better.

Just this morning, FFA announced that, in conjunction with PFA, they had agreed to terms for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement for the W-League.

The two-year deal, which will coincide with the expiry of the men’s CBA, has been heralded as a watershed moment for women’s football and quite frankly, it was long overdue.

The key terms and conditions will see the minimum salary rise from $2,500 to $10,000 and the base player payments per club increase from $50,000 to $180,000 with further incremental increases to occur in 2018.

One of the most notable benefits includes a maternity policy which provides airfare and room funding for players travelling with a child 3 years-old or younger.

Heather Garrriock’s well-documented struggle with FFA over her carer’s rights while on duty for the Matildas in 2013 were played out in a courtroom last April.

The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled against her and consequentially opened Pandoras Box, highlighting just how much we were lagging behind other sporting codes.

Although the mistakes of yesteryear cannot be erased for former players like Garriock, the introduction of this new agreement stands to prevent both current and future footballers from suffering the same fate.

Speaking to PFA Player Relations Executive and former Matilda, Kathryn Gill, her invaluable experience as a footballer has seen her transition into a role of advocacy and she has been leading the charge for change ever since.

Amassing 86 caps for Australia and netting 41 goals in the process, Gill was apart of an era in the women’s game that was at the peak of its challenges but years later, it would serve as her motivation during the CBA negotiation process.

"It’s kind of bittersweet looking at it now," Gill admits. "You wish that you had this available to you when you were playing but that’s why I was so staunch in getting it done because I know how much of a struggle and a strain it's been."

Under the previous conditions, it wasn’t uncommon to lose promising talent to rival codes like AFL and cricket but Gill believes the new terms will not only prevent that from happening but bolster the legitimacy of the W-League.

"Having a professional league that allows players the opportunity to be a professional athlete is one key thing but they have a career path now," she said.

"Young girls can see a visible career path and that the W-League forms part of that."

The change in heart from FFA is one that Gill attributes to the players after they "recognised they are powerful when they’re united. They have had input and been involved in every step of the process."

As a result, the positive experience during the latest negotiations has also patched-up the savagely fractured relationship between the governing body and the player’s union.

"I think something that’s come out of this and I wouldn’t have said this 12 months ago, is that the relationship between FFA, the clubs and the PFA has been repaired and I think that’s got a lot to do with (PFA Chief Executive) John Didulica sitting in the chair and the way he conducts himself," she said. "

"The FFA have really come to the party on this."

It’s a rarity that FFA are being applauded for their strategies and approach to the game in this country but on this occasion, they can afford to take a bow.

While this new agreement is by no means the end of progression in the women's game, two years on from that harrowing day in Hyde Park, it’s a date that I am happy to replace in the memory banks of my football calendar.