SPORT

How A Matildas Midfielder Mastered A High School Game To Become A Star

Who knew football and ghosting had so much in common?

05/11/2017 4:09 PM AEDT | Updated 05/11/2017 4:09 PM AEDT
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Tameka Butt is now one of the Matildas' best players -- and gee she's happy about it.

Matildas midfielder Tameka Butt loves to cause her opposition a bit of chaos.

She's played football in six different countries across four continents throughout her professional career and has performed for Australia's national women's team for a decade.

And while she's recently been tearing up pitches in Norway for Klepp Elite -- she's currently a nominee for Best Midfielder and Best Player in the Toppserien League's season awards -- Butt attributes her footballing prowess to a childhood game she used to play at school.

The 26-year-old, who was born in Orange in New South Wales' central west and now lives on the Gold Coast, has also just landed back in Australia for the 10th season of the national W-League on the back of some impressive Matildas victories.

So, how exactly is it that a teenage Tameka Butt converted her skill in a playground game to some serious ability on the football pitch? HuffPost Australia spoke to her to find out.

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It's safe to say she's a fan favourite.

Luke: Tameka, your name was pretty popular in the HuffPost Australia office for a while because you're the star Matildas player that scored the winning goal in Australia's first-ever victory over the United States in July. I bet it felt pretty great to see that one hit the back of the net?
Tameka: I think I was pretty excited not so much for myself but more for the team, every time we face the US we're like, 'come on this time let's get the win'. This time it was actually reality.

Luke: Australia has played the US 28 times, so by now you must be familiar with a lot of their players. How was the banter on the pitch when you realised you had scored?
Tameka: We obviously know the USA and have been trying to beat them for a long time but we all had this confidence about us knowing that all of our players were in form and coming to peak performance. We all kind of knew that we had, collectively as a team, the talent to beat them... When the goal went in, it was a bit of confirmation for the girls that it was our game and that we deserved it.

Luke: You looked pretty calm and comfortable in front of that goal. Has that always been one of your strengths as a player -- being confident in front of the goalkeepers of big-name countries?
Tameka: I think it kind of comes in the moment. It doesn't really depend on what team you're playing, it's just how composed you are at the time. There's been plenty of shots where I've rushed it against weaker teams and others that I've placed easily. It all comes down to your composure in that split second.

Luke: It certainly looked like a pretty quick split second! How do you prepare yourself for those moments?
Tameka: It comes with the experience -- the more game time you get, the more composure you have under those pressure situations. Training sessions are meant to simulate game play but there's nothing quite like the real pressure as what's in a game.

Luke: So, what is it about your style of play that scares some of the opposition teams you have come up against with the Matildas? Is there something about you that gets opponents a little nervous to face you?
Tameka: One of the best dynamics about my game, as I play in the number 10 role [which is generally an attacking midfield position], is being kind of a late runner from deep. That means it's very hard to catch me offside and it's like a third-man run, so I'm running off the shoulder of someone who's marking someone else. It's a little bit like ghosting, I have that dynamic in my game which can cause the opposition a bit of chaos.

I have that dynamic in my game which can cause the opposition a bit of chaos.

Luke: Ghosting? As in, that funny trend where you run behind somebody while trying not to get noticed? Is that something you practice in your training sessions?
Tameka: It used to be a pretty good joke at school -- I did it a lot then. When I was younger we all had a running joke that someone would have to 'ghost' someone in a game to get points. For the goal against the US, it was a little bit like that. I was a late runner and the ball got knocked into my path and it caught the defence asleep a little bit.

Luke: Hang on, so how did this scoring system work in school and how did you get good at the game?
Tameka: It was me and a group of five boys. If someone saw you ghosting somebody -- walking behind them so they couldn't see you -- you'd get a tally to your name and the winner would get a can of Coca-Cola or a Mars Bar.

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Years of ghosting practice means no one gets near Tameka unless she says so.

Luke: Right! Well then, is there anything else Australia should know about Tameka Butt that we don't already know?
Tameka: I guess I kind of do have another little hobby off the field, aside from surfing. I actually study a lot and I'm about to complete a double master degree. I'm doing a Master in Business which specialises in Sport Management and a Masters with Marketing.

Luke: That must be pretty full-on when it comes to juggling your studies with football. How do you fit it all in?
Tameka: I think I've been pretty lucky. I go to Griffith University and they have a sports school that's absolutely amazing and helps other Matildas go through as well. I think I've been pretty lucky with the institute that I've been able to do it with and also I've had time -- I'm 26 now and it's taken me that long to get my degree.

Luke: So, sport management and marketing -- is that an area you'd like to move into in the future?
Tameka: I definitely want to have a part in making women's sport bigger and making it more marketable. I definitely want to use the fact that I've got my foot in the sports industry to start doing that while I'm still playing.

Luke: Speaking of making women's sport bigger -- what are your thoughts on the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was reached this year to give Australia's female footballers a payrise? It's a big step in the right direction but the deal has its drawbacks.
Tameka: I was definitely part of a group that got together and made that all happen. It was a massive step in the right direction then and now I see it as more of a platform that we need to keep growing on. It's not a peak that we've reached at all -- it's not close to equality but it's a step forward in the right direction and we can't go below that now. We've built ourselves a platform to continue growing with.

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Tameka was part of the player group pushing for higher wages for Australia's female footballers -- and that's something to smile about.

Luke: Just going back to your time in Norway for a moment -- earlier this month your Matildas teammate Caitlin Foord wrote an interesting blog piece talking about her struggles with homesickness while playing in Japan. Norway is pretty far from Orange or the Gold Coast, have you ever had similar struggles?
Tameka: Yeah definitely. I think early on, going overseas I struggled. The first place I struggled was Germany. I was in the US before that but it wasn't a massive culture change whereas when I went to Germany, it was a lot harder for me to break into the team and make friends and I got pretty homesick and that was a learning curve for me. The point where you decide to push on and make your time there worth it is when it turns around for you.

Luke: What did you do to cope in those tough moments?
Tameka: I think I learnt how to be a more outspoken person. I would speak to all my teammates and put my input in. Generally, I'm not that talkative but I had to push myself to get out of that comfort zone and that's when I think I started getting more accepted by my teammates and having a valued opinion.

Luke: Now, as for the Matildas, you've played with them since you were 16-years-old in 2007 and a decade is a very long time to consistently be doing any one thing -- surely that makes you a veteran of sorts in the team?
Tameka: Yeah, I think so -- I've got to that age where I definitely feel like a veteran. I feel like I was a baby for a long time and now I definitely feel a lot older. Throughout my years with the Matildas, there's been a lot of changes and players come and go and right now we've got the youngest squad that we've ever really had I think.

Luke: Do you ever get picked on for being one of the oldies?
Tameka: No, I think there's others that get picked on a little more than me, perhaps [Lisa] De Vanna. She's been around a lot longer than me. I'm definitely not the first one to get picked on. I think the fact that I'm quite short, people also forget that I'm a bit older.

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Matildas star Lisa De Vanna is the oldest player in the women's national team -- which means she cops a bit of stick, according to Tameka.

Luke: Okay, so in the last 10 years has there been a stand-out moment or experience that you've had with the national team that you rate as your most memorable?
Tameka: I don't know if I could pick one thing, I've had a couple of goals that I've set for myself so I think just reaching those goals, it's not a specific moment. Going to the World Cup in 2011 and 2015 were major goals of mine and then the Olympics as well.

Luke: Do you still get nervous running out to big events like those? How do you cope with that?
Tameka: Yeah definitely. I think nerves is an important part to going out and playing a match... When I was a lot younger I used to get a lot more nervous and feel a bit sick, but now I've learnt to not think about the game the whole day. I do something else in the morning, whether that's maybe study or watch a TV series or something but making sure my mind doesn't switch onto it too early is the key for me.

Luke: Just lastly, the Matildas have been absolutely flying this year in terms of their form in matches so I have to put it to you -- when can Australians expect you to win a World Cup? Surely it's on its way?
Tameka: That's what's kind of making this next four-year cycle so exciting. We probably do have the best Matildas team right now that we've ever had and that's been built with moments like with [coach Alen Stajcic] coming in and the players coming of age and a having a mixture of experience and youth. We definitely have one of the best Matildas teams that we've had but also, we're kind of peaking at the right time. There are lot of other nations that are rebuilding and others that are coming up strong and we've picked the right time and the opportunity is there to win the World Cup or the Olympics and take the number one spot.

Luke: Tameka Butt, thanks so much for speaking to HuffPost Australia.
Tameka: No problem.

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