The careers of Tammy Sprott and Alison Vickers, two stalwarts of women’s football in regional Queensland, are drawing to a close.
Now in their 40s, their story is representative of a generation of female footballers who have ignored age and injury to play on alongside much younger women.
Tammy and Alison grew up together in Blackwater, a small coalmining town 200km west of Rockhampton.
Both represented Queensland during the early 1990s and Tammy (pictured) played for the Australian U19 team – now known as the Young Matildas.
Apart from interruptions for Tammy to serve in the Navy and for Alison to give birth to her two children, both have played every season they could in regional competitions.
Tammy, a fitter at the Hail Creek Coal Mine in Mackay, is currently sidelined while she recovers from a season-ending injury she suffered while playing for Magpies Mackay.
While she hasn’t given up hope of playing next year, she knows that it will be a long road to get back to the game she loves.
Further south, in Rockhampton, Alison recently called time on a 36-year career that saw her play for CQ clubs Blackwater, Southside, Berserker, Frenchville and Bluebirds.
Alison’s Bluebirds teammates, including her teenage daughters Bianca Jean and Nakita Leigh (pictured), formed a guard of honour for her as she left the field for the final time.
“I’m nowhere near fit, but it was great to be able to play with my daughters,” said Alison.
“It’s been a trying year, but they were my biggest support crew and they kept me going. It was an honour to run out with them, that’s for sure.”
The current era of booming participation numbers for women and girls, a professional W-League and a high-profile national team is a far cry from the game they knew as teenagers.
Back then, women’s football was left to its own devices and many women had to fight for the right to play the game – particularly in regional areas.
In 1989, when Tammy was 16, she received state-wide attention for her fight to play for the Blackwater U19 boys team in the Rockhampton competition.
Her mother, Monica, took the case to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Board after local officials de-registered Tammy and said it was “not desirable” for women over the age of 12 to play in boys competitions.
The problem was that Tammy had just been selected for the Australian youth team and needed to play at the highest level possible in order to prepare for the Oceania Cup.
“At the time, I was 11 turning 12 and Tammy was my idol,” recalled Alison.
“We were fighting for her to be allowed to play with the senior boys, and I was fighting to be eligible to play with the youth boys.”
In the end, Tammy played one season with the U19 boys before her coach, David Vickers, formed a Blackwater women’s team for Tammy and his daughter Alison to play in.
“Blackwater was like any rural town, I suppose. Everyone knew each other, and we used to travel a lot to play football,” said Tammy.
“It was a struggle just to have a game. We had to travel two hours almost every weekend just to play in Rockhampton, but we bonded a lot and had a great sense of mateship.”
Now, two decades on, Alison is content to sit on the sidelines and watch her daughters play. But Tammy, forever the battler, is still hopeful for one more season.
“Playing football has been the best years of my life,” she said. “I’ve loved the game since I was a kid and I’ve made lifelong friends.”
Football For All, For Life shines a light on the inspiring characters that make up the FQ community.