May 17 (Reuters) – With professional opportunities thin on the ground, girls and women chasing dreams of playing soccer for New Zealand tend to develop more skills than running, passing and shooting to make ends meet to meet.
Midfielder Malia Steinmetz has learned the ins and outs of plumbing, knows her way around a warehouse and has worked as a cashier at a grocery store while building her international career with New Zealand’s “Football Ferns.”
Steinmetz and her teammates will be thrust into the global spotlight at the July 20-Aug. 20 Women’s World Cup hosted by New Zealand and Australia.
But when their tournament is over, many will return to jobs and real-life worries about how to pay the rent while playing their sport.
“It’s kind of hard to make a living,” Steinmetz said.
“Most of the other (teammates) have jobs and have to run to them after morning practice.”
The 24-year-old plays for Western Sydney Wanderers in the A-League Women, Australia’s top competition, where players will earn a minimum wage of A$25,000 ($17,000) next season, up from A$20,608 in the recently concluded one.
Minimum wage players in the A-League Men earn a similar hourly rate but can earn more than double the women’s wages due to more playing time.
Steinmetz jokes that she has become a customer service expert from her experience with small jobs and may eventually become a “tradie” — the local slang word for workers in trades such as plumbing and construction.
Ultimately, she hopes to wring as much out of her soccer career as possible.
She also hopes the World Cup can give a boost to other aspiring players in a country famously obsessed with rugby but boasting just one professional football team.
“I just hope it puts (soccer) on the map a little bit more for the young girls coming through — just seeing the possibilities as a career and that there’s so much you can do with it,” she said.
Steinmetz is optimistic about the direction of the game, having seen the bumpers at the Women’s Champions League and last year’s Women’s European Championship.
However, a few years ago the former New Zealand under-20 captain dropped out of the sport to study during a questionable phase.
In addition to learning ancient history, archeology and anthropology at university, Steinmetz realized how much she missed soccer during her six months.
“(The break) made me realize that nine-to-five really stinks and I’d rather be hustling around a football field — and doing it as long as I can,” she said.
The WC will offer a shop window for players like Steinmetz, who naturally yearn for bigger stages than the A-League Women, where a healthy match-day crowd is a few thousand fans.
It could be a tight window for the Ferns, who are ranked 25th in the world and are on a 10-game winless streak.
Drawn in Group A with Norway, Switzerland and the Philippines, just reaching the knockout rounds would be quite a triumph for the co-hosts.
Regardless of the Ferns’ results, the tournament should still make a big impact on the women’s game in New Zealand, Steinmetz said.
“I think this World Cup will be watched well and sponsors will want to get more involved after seeing it,” she added.
“Hopefully it will be a huge moment for women’s football.”
($1 = 1.4743 Australian dollars)
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Jacqueline Wong
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