This Documentary Series Spotlights The Stars Of Sydney FC W-League And The Push For Equality In Football 

A new documentary series is giving a voice to the incredible female athletes behind Sydney FC’s women’s league as they navigate the challenges of professional sport all while pushing for greater equality.

Sport is, in many ways, a theatre of Shakespearean tragedy. From immense highs and triumphs over adversity, to crushing lows and defeat in front of tens-of-hundreds of adoring fans, the wave that is sporting success breaks as quickly as it rises into view. But it’s for this reason that sport proves so powerful; a true testament to the human spirit and its ability to overcome any challenges thrown in its course, whether that be navigating the physical side of the game or the mental obstacles that simply come with the territory. 

For the women of Sydney FC, widely regarded as Australia’s most famous football club, this nature of sport is all too familiar. The women’s team was founded ahead of the inaugural W-League season in 2008 and has since qualified for every single finals series, winning four Premiership and three Championship titles. It’s a club that boasts some of the sport’s biggest names, with Aussie golden girl Sam Kerr signing in 2012 where she went on to bag 13 goals in 24 appearances for the Sky Blues. Even US legend and dual FIFA Women’s World Cup winner Megan Rapinoe player for the club for a brief stint in 2011, while a host of Matildas stars like Alanna Kennedy, Caitlin Ford and Chloe Logarzo have donned the famed uniform. 

Given the accolades and success stories that have been birthed at the club, it seems only fitting that a new documentary series is shedding light on the club’s most transformational year in its long-running history. Narrated by Anthony LaPaglia, Sky Blue provides an incredibly intimate insight into the nature of professional football, granting fans access to players both on and off the pitch. The series begins following the 2021 season, which saw both the men’s and women’s teams lose to arch-rivals Melbourne. Now on the road to redemption, they’re giving everything to training and competition to come back stronger than before. 

It also presents a seminal moment for women’s football at large and with Sky Blue providing access to both the men’s and women’s teams, the differences between the pair are brought to the fore, notably the fact that the females compete only on semi-professional pay despite the great expectations and pressures placed on them, while the men are fully professional. It’s something that seems at odds with the current landscape of women’s football, which has seen the Matildas fight exhaustively for gender equality in sport, going on to reach a landmark collective bargaining agreement that has closed the pay gap between Australia’s national teams, the Socceroos and Matildas. One can only hope that this level of equality is achieved for the sport at all levels. 

With the four-part series dropping weekly on Paramount+ from Thursday, 29 September, it’s sure to command attention. We sat down with one of the stars of Sky Blue, and incomparable winger Cortnee Vine to find out more about the mental and physical challenges of professional sport, the pressure that comes with playing for a club with such a historic legacy in the world of football, and the inroads women in the sport are making to ensure the future is one full of equal opportunities. 

Women’s Health: What was your earliest memory of playing soccer and who introduced you to it?

Cortnee Vine: I would say my earliest memory would have to be when I was five watching my brother’s team and wanting to play with them! My Dad loved soccer and played it when he was younger so I think that had a big influence on why I started playing but by far my biggest influence in everything I did was always because of my older brother! 

When did you think it was something you could pursue professionally?

I never grew up thinking I wanted to necessarily be a professional soccer player, I loved playing all sports and participated in most of them throughout my schooling and also pursued athletics until I was 15. I wasn’t aware as a young girl that there was a women’s league. I never played in a women’s team (apart from reps), I always played in the boys teams growing up. So I always thought that meant I would play in a boys team forever, make the A-League Men’s and the Socceroos for international duties [laughs]. 

Courtesy Sydney FC

Given its long-running history and boastful collection of silverware, what does it mean to represent Sydney FC?

Sydney FC is such a successful club. I’ve been in the league for a while now and throughout my experience Sydney FC always held the highest standard. To play for a club that always pushes for the premiership and top four in the league makes me the player I am today. I wouldn’t be where I am, achieving what I am achieving without Sydney FC holding me to such high standards. It’s so important to keep growing and pushing yourself as an athlete and that’s what Sydney FC is all about.

The documentary series opens after the heartbreak of the 2021 season which saw Sydney FC fall to rivals Melbourne Victory in the final. As a team, how do you pull together after a defeat and remain positive?

Losing any silverware is always devastating in sport. Losing to the same team two years in a row hurts even more.  What is so great about the Sydney FC squad that we have is how close we all are. How much we all want to achieve the same common goal. We all get around each other and back each other in each training and game. Having a team as close as the team we have makes coming back from a defeat that much easier, because we all want the same thing for the next game, and that’s to win.

What are some of the challenges that come with being a professional football player, both physically and mentally?

Being a professional football player definitely comes with its ups and downs. Physically it can be hard. Injuries happen (I’ve had my fair share) which can stop progression with your fitness and strength and then there is the mental game, which I think is the most important aspect. I’m still learning to strengthen both of these areas.  

Courtesy Sydney FC

The documentary series also provides an insight into the differences between the men’s and women’s team, particularly when it comes to the pay gap. How does a women’s team existing on semi-professional pay impact players and the team at large?

It impacts us massively. Knowing that, at the moment, the top league you can play in in Australia is “semi-professional” means you can’t just focus on being an athlete 24/7. You need another job to be able to live, pay rent and buy food because we aren’t earning enough. 

I think being “semi-professional” doesn’t help with your own identity. Are you a full-time professional athlete? Are you a full-time student? Are you a full-time employee within a business? When people ask what do you do for work? My first initial thought, and I’m sure it’s the same for a lot of the girls, isn’t ‘I am a professional footballer’. Which is just upsetting.

cortnee vine

The women’s league has lost so much talent because of the pay gap. Women have to give up their passion of playing football professionally and look to their future careers far too soon.

When it comes to football, the female game has grown significantly and now commands media attention and greater promotion with some of the best athletes in the sport. With this increased notoriety comes a rise in expectations, how do these pressures impact you as a player? Are you aware of them when stepping out onto the field? 

I think it’s great that women’s football is starting to demand more attention and media attention as the women’s game is growing. 

What do you hope audiences take away from Sky Blue and what are you most excited for them to see?

I hope the audience really captures the friendships and enjoyment of our squad at Sydney FC even though there is a massive pay gap, how excited and passionate we all are. I’m excited for them to experience the emotions of our Semi-Final!

Sky Blue is now available to watch on Paramount+ where a new episode drops weekly. 

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