Melbourne Victory defender Angela Beard wanted to continue playing football when Victoria’s Women’s National Premier League was cancelled due to COVID-19. Iceland came knocking – but her experience there, like many others, has been pock-marked by disruptions. Now, the full-back has returned to Australia as Europe’s second wave begins.
“I’ve got a little routine set up.”
Angela Beard is speaking from a hotel room in Adelaide. The warm South Australian sun bounces off the sparse back wall and illuminates her light grey, short-sleeved t-shirt. The scene is a far cry from the biting cold and layers of thermals she’d become used to recently.
“I wake up early, seven or eight most days. They deliver the food to me, so I don’t have any cooking. I work out twice a day: once in the morning and once at night. I’m still at university, so I have a bit of study each day. Then I’ll watch Netflix or something and do it again.”
This is Beard’s third time in quarantine since August. The first two were back in Iceland, where she played for KR Reykjavik in the Úrvalsdeild kvenna (Iceland's top-tier women's competition). Her third – here today – is in Australia, having returned two weeks ago following the end of her short-term contract. She’s grateful that she has a window that opens this time.
“You gotta take the positives out of it,” Beard told SBS – The World Game.
“At the end of the day, it’s 14 days in a hotel room. I don’t have a balcony, but at least I have a little Juliet; it opens but you can’t walk out onto it, it’s just a big door that slides open and has fresh air that comes through, which is good.
“I know Sydney and Melbourne are pretty bad [quarantine environments], but Brisbane and Adelaide are the best places to be right now for hotel quarantine, which is why I flew into Adelaide.
“Technically my flight plan was I come to Adelaide and then I fly to Brisbane, but obviously the laws are you have to quarantine in your first port of entry. So I was stuck.”
Like many of Australia’s women footballers, uncertainty surrounding domestic competitions in 2020 saw her more willing to pursue opportunities abroad. With various international competitions on the horizon over the next four years, every month of game-time counts for prospective Matildas like Beard.
“At the time, I was down in Melbourne,” Beard said.
“It’s not ideal to be in that kind of area with football right now, or six months ago. I wasn’t playing. I was thinking about moving back home to play in Brisbane’s NPL, but then my agent contacted me out of the blue and said, ‘an opportunity’s come up: an Australian player was meant to go to Iceland but she changed her mind.’
“So he brought forward the opportunity to me and I kinda just thought, ‘this is the perfect time for me to make that jump.’ I haven’t been overseas yet in terms of playing for an overseas club. I’ve got national team [caps] – under 17s, under 19s – and going to South Korea with Victory last year [for the AFC Women’s Club Championship], but I haven’t been a contracted player in an overseas team.
“The contract was 3.5-4 months long, so it’s not even a big leap; it was more like a tester. I know girls in Europe have been signing for one year, two years, three years, even. I just thought it’d be perfect for me to experience the lifestyle, experience the changes of going overseas and playing in a country where you’re independent, you have to be self-motivated, look after yourself as much as possible.
“Obviously there’s a club there to help you, but at the end of the day, it’s down to me and it’s down to my accountability and the responsibility I put on myself to play and take care of myself as a human being.”
Beard’s arrival in Iceland was made all the smoother by what she’d heard about the country from some of her W-League team-mates.
Last season, she’d played alongside senior Matilda Jenna McCormick and fellow Young Matilda Grace Maher at Melbourne Victory, both of whom had spent time there. In fact, Beard ended up signing for the same club that Maher had played for – and even ended up living in the same apartment that she had.
When Beard first arrived, things were normal: Iceland’s borders had been closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and people were getting on with their everyday lives, albeit at a safe distance from one another. Iceland’s top sports leagues were running normally, too.
That is, until the government – concerned by the lack of tourism – re-opened the borders.
“That’s where everything went backwards, like how it’s going all over Europe,” Beard said.
“Social distancing got worse, face masks were never really put in place. The league was heavily affected. My team, especially, was heavily affected. We had a girl in the under-19s team – which is sort of our reserves – she tested positive. So that put the senior team that I was in into seven-day quarantine.
“We came out, played four games in ten days, and then our assistant coach tested positive, which sent us back into a two-week quarantine. The one-week was in August and then the two-week one was in September. But then towards the end of September, and even through to today, the league has been suspended because of COVID and community transmission.
“I’m pretty sure they’ve closed the borders again or limited travellers, but what I’ve been hearing from team-mates who I still talk to, it’s not looking awesome.”
From playing 90 minutes consistently for KR Reykjavik – although in different positions, from full-back to left wing to left-sided centre-back – to all of a sudden playing nothing at all, the toll it takes on the body can be severe.
“The consistency was something I’ve never had to experience before,” she said. “Two weeks, I’m sitting at home, barely able to do anything – body-weight work-outs and going for runs – and then I’m playing four games in ten days. The contrast of the consistency was insane.
“But the best part about isolation and quarantine is that there are no excuses to not be taking care of yourself. I can send a message to my team manager, who luckily wasn’t in quarantine, and she can do groceries for me.
“That also keeps me a little bit accountable: when I’m sending a grocery list, I can’t be like, ‘please get me some chocolate.’ I mean, I can, but I probably shouldn’t. Then I have the whole day where I can stretch, where I can foam-roll, eat well, hydrate.
“I’d like to think I’ve taken a lot of experiences out of my time over in Iceland. It’s difficult to look back and not emphasize the negatives of the experience, but it’s also important to remember the reasons I was there and the things I’ve learned about myself.”
Despite her rocky first experience overseas, Beard is determined to return to Europe once things calm down.
She’d already turned down a couple of offers to continue there as early as December this year. Instead, she’s decided to return to Victory in the W-League, and hopefully put herself on the Matildas’ radar ahead of next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
“It’s been an ambition for a very long time,” she said. “I remember I was graduating primary school and we had this big ceremony where we had to say what we wanted to be when we grew up. I was 12 and I said I wanted to be an Olympian. So that hasn’t changed for a long time.
“It’d be a dream come true to play in a World Cup on home soil. It’s a bit close-minded to say it’s a deadline that I have to reach that stage by the time I’m a certain age. Different coaches want different things; there are other players in certain positions, a playing style can need this type of player or that type of player.
“At the end of the day, I’m just trying to produce the best version of me that I can. That’s all that I can control. If I get picked for the national team tomorrow, next year, or five years from now, as long as I know that I’m being the best footballer I can be, then I’m happy with that.”