Earlier this year, Matildas star and new Summerland Football ambassador, Michelle Heyman, visited the Northern Rivers, where she inspired the next generation of stars in Ballina, Lismore and Casino.
In this interview, Michelle reminisces about playing at her local club, what she saved her money for growing up and the one superstition she has every game day.
Welcome to Summerland Football Michelle, how excited are you to join an organisation that invests in grassroots football across the country?
I am very excited. I love everything about it. The whole concept of Summerland Football and its Cash 4 Clubs program is amazing and I think that level of the game is what we need to think more of. Grassroots football is where it all starts and it’s where all the dreams are made. For me as a young kid playing at that level, it was all about having fun and enjoying it with my friends.
What do you remember about the grassroots football season growing up?
I remember that I played in a boys’ competition and I was the only girl. When I first started playing, I was a little intimidated because I was the only girl in the league. I just remember being very competitive growing up, I always wanted to be a winner and beat the boys!
Whereabouts did you grow up?
I grew up in Shellharbour and played for Warilla Wanderers, the local club down there.
Have you had the chance to go back to Warilla recently?
Yes, I went to drop off all my soccer boots. I try to get back as much as possible, but it is challenging with the schedule I have.
What did you do to prepare for the season growing up?
I was an active kid and played every sport on top of football, so I was doing athletics, touch football and surfing.
I was always very active and excited for the football season to start. When it did start, I only had two training sessions a week and a game on the weekend. I remember going early to training at 3.30pm, straight after school and I’d just wait for training to start, so I could play with my friends.
Is there anything you did as a kid, that you still do now to prepare for the season?
I still clean my boots before every season! I always feel I can play better with clean boots. I guess as well, it’s the enjoyment I bring at the start of every season. I always want to remember that feeling from my first training session as a kid to where I am now.
If you could go back and talk to an eight-year-old Michelle, what sort of advice would you give her?
It would be more along the lines of ‘Don’t give up when the times are hard,’ which is something I never did, but I did second guess myself a fair few times. That’s how life is, it’s always challenging with ups and downs.
When you were growing up, what did you save your money up for?
Oh…I loved Lego! All my pocket money went towards buying Lego. I was a big saver as a child, and I still am to this day. I’ve been able to buy my own house, but I’ve always been a big saver and I’ve always enjoyed watching my piggy bank grow. It’s kind of cute, because now my nephew does the same!
One of Summerland’s key values is respect, what other values do you think you need as a player?
I would certainly say respect is definitely up there. It’s more along the lines of discipline, courage, bravery and being true to yourself. Personally, I always play better when I am happy within myself with who I am, so that is my core value I think.
Are there any characteristics you think make a great team mate?
Somebody who can push you and be your best friend. That’s how I look at it with my roommate Minnie (Katrina Gorry). She gets the best out of me as a player and as a person, and I hope that I do the same for her (laughs). You want to be able to play for your best friend and that’s how I look at it.
Are there any mantras you live by that you’ve followed your whole career?
Always be you. That’s why one of the shirts I have says ‘Be you’. If you’re never yourself, then you’ll never get to where you’re intending to be in life.
For those that look up to you, what’s the best and worst part about being a professional athlete?
The best part is certainly being able to be a role model and have the younger ones look up to you and aspire to be where you are. The downfall is probably getting attention when you don’t want it. When you just want some quiet time and be away from the world; that’s what I am finding right now. You have to be able to split yourself as a person; being half a professional athlete and half a human being. Trying to work out the balance of that can be challenging.
What is your favourite place you’ve travelled to with the Matildas?
It’s funny, because my favourite place is Denmark, but I didn’t go there with the Matildas. I was playing for a club side there in Copenhagen, and it’s such a beautiful city with great people… it’s just gorgeous.
Often when I’m away with the Matildas we are in a hotel and just go to the football pitch to play. You don’t really get to experience much outside of that. Being away in Denmark for seven months, playing in Copenhagen, is one of the highlights of my life so far.
What does a game day look like for you?
I pretty much turn into a baby because all I do is eat and sleep (laughs). I like to try and sleep in. I eat, then I might go for a walk. I also try to rest my body as much as possible before the game.
What sort of food do you eat on a game day?
Breakfast is always eggs. Lunch… depending on the time of the game, will be a chicken and avocado wrap. If I have time for second lunch it will be toast with peanut butter and banana.
That sounds great.
It is yum!
Is this any different when you’re on duty for the Matildas?
Yes, it is very different. When it comes to food, everything is there that I need, so I can always eat the same food. Sometimes it feels like we are kind of trapped in a hotel, to use a better word. We can’t really leave, especially in certain countries.
Sure, because of the security…
That’s right. Now we are becoming more well known, it’s becoming even tougher.
Who do you room with on international duty and when you go away for your club?
When I go away with Adelaide, I’m with Sian McLaren, our goalkeeper. I am very lucky to have her because she’s one of the funniest humans ever and is such a kind hearted person. So I am very lucky to have her with me for every trip away.
On national team duty it’s Katrina Gorry. She always has and always will be my room buddy. She is quite a way younger than me, so I will have to leave her at some point, sadly!
Do you have any songs you like to listen to before a game?
I prefer listening to a podcast, to get my mind away from the game and focus on something else for the time being. When I get to the bus or the field, I just like to enjoy some quiet time to think about what I need to do and how I need to prepare myself before I go out on the field. There is a lot of talking in my mind and telling myself I am a goal scorer, I have to make x amount of tackles, I have to do this, this and this. So that’s what I do before a game.
Do you have any superstitions as a player?
I do! When I walk out on the pitch, I need to touch the goalposts at both ends of the pitch. If I am walking down the tunnel, I have to walk to the right sided goal first, touch both posts and then go to the left side of the pitch and touch the other posts (laughs).
What will you be doing now the W-League season is over?
My plans are to continue to stay fit, get selected for the Matildas, go to the World Cup and win it (laughs). That’s the plan!
What are you most looking forward to about the World Cup in France?
I have the full confidence that we are capable of winning the World Cup and that belief, I think, is something which a lot of teams find challenging to discover within themselves. I really do believe in this squad, the players we have and where we are right now. It is so exciting and to be a part of that would be very nice to finish my career.
What’s your French like?
Terrible! I should probably learn more than just ‘Oui’ (laughs). If we win the World Cup I probably will learn French!