Meet the Wanderers defender who took untraditional path to pro football

Nikola Orgill during her time with Kolbotn Fotball Source: @nikolaorgill (Instagram)

The coming-of-age story of a modern footballer follows a similar script: they join a grassroots club at a young age, they’re identified early by coaches and scouts working in the tiers above, and then they're recruited into more advanced academies and development programs.

As they train and play in increasingly elite environments, moving up the various age brackets, they hone their skills and their footballing intelligence.

They start to have their stats recorded and published. Local media start taking interest. They start to be included in whispered conversations about football’s “next big thing.” 

Ultimately – or so the Happily-Ever-After story goes – the player makes their senior debut with the club that played a major role in developing them. Some even go on to represent their country. 

Wanderers defender Nikola Orgill’s script is different. 

“I grew up in Hong Kong and Singapore and lived in Asia for twelve years before coming back to Australia,” Orgill told The World Game.

“I played a little bit over there, but it wasn’t structured football or anything like that. 

“Then I joined a local club where my friend was playing when I was 13. Then I got picked up from a few other clubs, but when I was about 15 or 16, I stopped. 

“I started to focus on some other sports instead. I always loved so many sports growing up – I went to The Hills Sports High School – so for a while I focused on that. I missed doing the other things as well, so I took four or five years off, went to uni, studied law and did different things in my life. 

“It was harder when I was younger. There wasn’t that clear path of, ‘you can be a footballer and that could be your job'.

"If that had been there, it definitely would have been a no-brainer. But it was hard to see where it could go, so I focused on my studies and other things.” 

Football would never be far from Orgill’s life, though. She played futsal while studying her law degree in Canberra before securing a full-time job with Football Federation Australia, becoming one of the few W-League players to get a glimpse behind the governing body’s curtain. 

“I started an internship in their legal team and did that for about six months,” Orgill said.

“I was still studying – still doing my law degree – and this opportunity came up with Sarah Walsh in the women’s football department. My boss in the legal team said, ‘you should apply!’ 

“I hadn’t even finished uni yet, but I remember applying and doing my interviews – I was with my dad travelling in Croatia and had all my Skype interviews. I was so nervous. Then I came back and started all of that. 

“That was the same year that I got into the Wanderers, so I was going out to Penrith or wherever it was and training at six in the morning, then going back into the city and working for the rest of the day. It was full on, but you couldn’t have a better employee for flexibility with that kind of thing than FFA. 

“I can’t help but defend them sometimes when people are talking. It’s funny because I’m on both sides, so sometimes it can be like, ‘why is the draw not out yet?’ but then I can picture how hard they’re all working and all the factors they’re trying to deal with.

"It’s nice to have that side and know how hard they work, and they do genuinely have the best interests of women’s football at heart. Hopefully I can try and get that message out to some of the players as well.” 

After debuting with Western Sydney in 2016, Orgill spent time with the Newcastle Jets and, more recently, Canberra United, where she was elected co-captain for the 2019-20 season.

Following an impressive campaign, Orgill then landed her first contract overseas with Kolbotn in Norway. 

“I’m half-Dutch so I love Europe and I went over a lot when I was growing up,” she said.

“I love the culture. About two years ago, I came over in the off-season of the W-League to train with a few pro clubs in Denmark and Holland, which was quite exciting. 

“I could see the football culture here can’t really be compared. That was always in the back of my mind. Then I had a few friends who played in the Toppserien and had great things to say, so when the opportunity came up, I thought, ‘yeah, why not? Let’s try it'. 

“In Norway, the technical standard is higher, and even tactically as well. It also helps because it’s a longer season and each team can actually work on the tactics and have more time to develop their own style of play, which I think is limited in Australia with such a short season.

"You build up those relationships here; a lot of players are on two-year, three-year contracts too, so you have that continuity of players. 

“Because I started quite late, I missed out on some of that individual technical skill-work. There’s a big focus on that at training; it’s really challenging and all the coaches are great, they’re always willing to do one-on-one sessions or some extra work with you if you want.

"I think my tactical understanding of the game has definitely improved. And with this team, I’m part of the captain’s group, so that’s been a challenge because it’s a younger side and there are language barriers, but I think my leadership experience has been good for me and enhanced my game as well.” 

With her Toppserien season now over, Orgill will be returning to where it all started, signing for the Western Sydney Wanderers ahead of the 2020-21 season.

While her football story may be unconventional, it still provides a valuable lesson: players flourish at their own times and in their own ways.

There is no one ‘right’ way to go about a professional football career; there is only the right way for you. The door is never closed to those who want to walk through it. 

“I try and tell as many people as I can when they’re a bit older or have missed out on young national teams or state teams, I always say to them: it doesn’t matter. I never made a national team, I never made a camp, but if you want it enough and you work hard enough, it doesn’t matter your age. 

“Especially now as well, it’s so nice with all the work that PFA and FFA have done, if you do get there, it can be a good job opportunity.

"You can go overseas to Europe and make it your career. This is my first year where I’m only doing football, I don’t have a full-time job as well. Anything can happen - just work hard.”