Inside Back: Club is kicking goals for female football

GIRL POWER: Mariam Fabia with Jessica and Ella at Callan Park Oval. Picture: Chris Lane
GIRL POWER: Mariam Fabia with Jessica and Ella at Callan Park Oval. Picture: Chris Lane

WHEN Mariam Fabia tells you she's into women's football, she ain't joking. The 35-year-old plays the game, coaches several teams, is president of a local club, is a season ticket holder for Sydney FC women's team and travels all around the country watching the Matildas.

And, to round it all off, she is the mother of two young and very keen female players. "You could say it's something of an obsession," she laughed.

Mariam is one of the many dedicated football people - men and women - behind the success of all-female club Russell Lea, which draws on players from all over the inner west.

Once a part of the Five Dock Football Club, Russell Lea broke away in the mid-1980s to form a club solely for female players. The club's pioneers wanted to develop their own culture and promote the women's game away from the strong influence of the much bigger men's club.

Mariam, Ella and Jessica. Picture: Chris Lane

Mariam, Ella and Jessica. Picture: Chris Lane

"Having played both with mixed teams and at an all-female club, I can say that it doesn't come without its challenges," Mariam, who has just been appointed president, said. "Being invested 100 per cent into female football creates a sense of pride and companionship because we know we're prioritised and in the same boat.

"It's refreshing and inspiring at the same time, especially for those players who have come from mixed clubs to finally just feel they are seen as the lead and not secondary players. It automatically develops a young girl's sense of belonging and contributes to their identity and overall confidence."

Mariam's seven-year-old daughter Jessica started out with a mixed team but quickly gravitated towards Russell Lea, inspired by what she experienced at a Sydney FC women's coaching clinic. Younger sister Ella is in a junior kickers coaching program and will likely follow Jessica to Russell Lea in a few years' time

Mariam said: "Girls feel comfortable in this environment. Their confidence shoots up. It's still competitive and just as rough but you also get a bit more empathy with girls - it's not always about winning but about supporting each other."

Ian Holmes, CEO of Canterbury District Soccer Football Association, said Russell Lea plays a vital role in developing and promoting the code in the inner west. "Russell Lea is unique because it is the sole club in the region that has a single-minded focus on the development of female football," he declared.

"There are parents and players who are more comfortable with participating in all-girls teams rather than mixed and it's important that Russell Lea exists to continue to provide that opportunity."

TIGERS ALL RIGHT TO GO

Wests Tigers' sound start to the NSW women's rugby league premiership is not hurting their chances of being included in next year's NRLW competition.

The Tigers are sitting on two wins from three starts after seeing their unbeaten run came to an end against North Sydney on Mother's Day The club, along with North Queensland, Canberra and Cronulla, have applied to join the NRLW from 2023 as the competition looks to expand to 10 teams.

They are really good players who want to go as far as they can in the game.

Brett Kimmorley

NRLW Dally M winner Jess Sergis, who made her club debut for the Tigers against Norths, believes the club is well placed. "I know how much the club is striving for that NRLW licence so, fingers crossed, we can get it," she told NRL.com. "We're going really well at the moment and I'm so excited to continue to build on that with the girls."

Tigers coach Brett Kimmorley believes the hard work being put in right now will have the club ready to go should their NRLW proposal be green-lighted.

"You've just got to look at the number of local girls in this team to see how many we have coming through the pathways system," he said. "They are really good players who want to go as far as they can in the game."

The Australian Rugby League Commission is set to make a decision on expansion by July.

NOT BLOCKING THIS PLAN

Big Steve Roach jokes that he's been around rugby league so long he belongs in a museum. With Leichhardt Oval set to be granted state government funding for a redevelopment of the entire precinct, Blocker's words are set to become reality.

Included in the master plan is a proposal to build a museum dedicated to the history of league in the inner west, along with a push for West Tigers to play six games a year at Leichhardt.

"We need a home ground, we've been nomads for too long and at least six games a year at our spiritual home is a must," Roach said. "The fact that [Inner West] Council are looking at building a museum to honour the history of the Tigers and rugby league in the inner west is absolutely brilliant [as is] the idea we're going to preserve the heritage of the ground, build a bigger grandstand and give the team and the fans some decent facilities. It makes this old Tiger a very happy man."

HARSH PENALTIES

One penalty against your side is hard enough to take in football, a second is disastrous. But how about three in one game? This was APIA Leichhardt's fate on Saturday night when they conceded three spot kicks in a 4-1 loss to Marconi in the "Italian Derby" at Marconi Stadium.

"I've never been involved in a game where there's been three penalties against one side. I'm not sure they all warranted penalties but Marconi deserved to win," APIA coach Dan Cummins told us.

The Tigers sit third after 10 rounds.

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