Michelle Heyman is back.
More than 12 months after hanging up the boots on her glittering soccer career, the former Matildas striker is back in the W-League and back at Canberra United.
When it comes to the women’s game in this country, not many have experienced the evolution of it like the 32-year-old, who started her professional career at Sydney FC and the Central Coast Mariners before becoming a permanent fixture in the nation's capital.
Heyman signed her first contract more than a decade ago when the concept of full-time soccer players still seemed fanciful.
But fast forward to now and the Matildas are one of the jewels of Australian sport. And Heyman has experienced the rise of the game like few others.
“I signed my first contract in 2008 for $75 a week so we’ve come a long way from there,” Heyman tells Behind The Lens after inking a new deal with Canberra United.
“Without the W-League I wouldn’t be where I am today and wouldn’t have been able to build my career without a professional competition in Australia.
“It wasn’t until 2010 when I moved to Canberra that I decided that this could be an actual job for myself. Financially it wasn’t paying that well, but on the football side, things started to change a bit; facilities improved, even just having access to the main field for our training or change rooms – I know these are simple things but that was hardly around.
“Being a part of the Matildas and the W-League, it has changed a lot since day one to now. Not just financially, but also in terms of the professionalism which has changed ridiculous amounts.”
After spending last season in the commentary box for Fox Sports while her beaten body recovered after more than a decade at the highest level, Heyman started feeling the itch.
It started when the coronavirus pandemic closed down the world earlier this year and grew as she started training again.
Now she is scratching that itch and eyeing the W-League goalscoring record she had owned since the first season before Matildas superstar Sam Kerr overtook her last year.
“I needed a year off to reset because my body was a bit sore. Part of why I retired in the beginning was I was mentally drained and just frustrated. I had a niggle in my knee that I didn’t have enough time to get fixed because we were just constantly on tour and training,” Heyman said.
“I started to get the itch when I was in COVID. I got a little bit bored and started working out again. I tried to do sessions by myself and it was more enjoyable then than it had been for the last couple of years. I made a few phone calls and put myself in the right position.”
With 61 national caps and 20 goals in the green and gold, Heyman was part of the national setup from 2010 until 2018.
Life with the Matildas included traveling the world to places most wouldn’t even contemplate going, like Jordan or South Korea. And it also led her to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games.
“The Rio Olympics are definitely the biggest highlight of my career. It was my biggest dream to be an Olympian. It was something I wanted to be from ten years old or even longer,” she said.
“I was always a sporty kid and just loved being outdoors and doing everything possible to win. My parents always knew I was going to be some sort of athlete, we just didn’t know what sport.
“Making that team is one of my favourite memories and then scoring goals at the Olympics was amazing. I scored two goals against Zimbabwe and then scored in our penalty shootout against Brazil and I panic taking a PK. Doing it in front of 40 or 50,000 Brazilian fans and live on TV taking a penalty was a lot of pressure. It was the one time I knew I just couldn’t miss. Being on that field with my teammates is something that is once in a lifetime.”
Heyman has finished two different passports plying her trade all over the world, including a season with a Danish club based in Copenhagen.
Her life has been an adventure in a sport that has been on one hell of a ride.
11 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT MICHELLE HEYMAN
What is the first trip you will take when the world goes back to normal?
Take me to Europe. I want to be back in Greece or Croatia and spend more time holidaying and actually enjoying the food and being a part of the culture. Being an athlete, I’ve seen so many soccer fields and hotel rooms, but I never really got the culture, which is sad. But taking those trips I now know where I want to go back.
If you can invite any three people to dinner, who are you inviting and why?
Oprah and Ellen. I’m a massive fan of both of them. With Ellen being LGBTI and her coming out story and the role model that she is and how kind she is, that’s something I take on for myself. I think she had it so hard being gay and being in that industry. To see her overcome all that to where she is now is just incredible. I think seeing that story made me feel good about myself and to be who I am. Oprah is just a legend. She is just so inspiring and the amount of people she helps is just incredible. She is another woman who is taking over the world and that’s so nice to see. To see a black woman be able to do that is amazing. From what she went through and how she struggled I’m obsessed. And the other one is my partner Christine, because she would be pissed off if I had dinner with Oprah and Ellen without her.
Who is your favourite sports team and sports star?
The West Tigers. That was our household team growing up. My dad was the biggest Tigers fan. Our downstairs sports area is one wall West Tigers and one wall Michelle memorabilia. It was always a big part of my life. As soon as Benji Marshall was on the TV I just wanted to copy everything he did because I grew up playing touch football and rugby. I wanted to be just like him, so he was always a big role model. The first time I went to live games was when I was in Canberra watching the Brumbies, which I loved.
What is your favourite movie?
Stand by Me
What is your favourite song?
I don’t listen to music and I know that’s strange, but I like any Jazz.
If you can choose your last meal on earth, what will it be?
I love a roast dinner with family
How do you drink your coffee?
Long black with a dash of milk
What is your go-to drink?
Pinot noir or a margarita
Beach or pool?
What was your dream job growing up?
I always wanted to be an athlete of some sort. It was the thing I was always good at. I was terrible at school, absolutely hated it. I can’t sit in an office. I can’t do nine to five type work. Sport has worked out well in the end.
Your favourite day on the calendar is…
My birthday, which is the 4th of July, so when I’m in America it is extra good.