In October 2020, with the W-League season rapidly approaching in a swathe of uncertainty, Perth Glory captain Natasha Rigby faced a decision.
The competition didn’t have a start date, and discussions about staging a hub so the league could avoid scheduling issues associated with COVID-19 were underway.
For Rigby and many others in the sport, that could have spelled the end of her football career.
“A lot of the girls who work full time had to really consider that, and if they were able to do it,” Rigby says.
“I know if that had have happened, I wouldn’t have been able to step away from my [non-football] career. It was difficult at the start not knowing.
Rigby works as a prison officer at one of Western Australia’s women’s prisons. She has enjoyed a good relationship with her employer while juggling football and full-time employment.
This season, which has been characterised by a series of last-minute fixture changes, has tested that relationship.
In past seasons, Rigby has been able to organise time off from work in advance, mostly for Fridays and Mondays when the team travel for matches.
“Now with the fixtures being so tricky in terms of quarantine, we’re trying to smoosh as many games as we can in, so it is a bit harder,” she says.
“And you do sacrifice more, because it’s not only the financial sacrifice you make, but the relationships that you build in terms of the trust with your workplace.
“You feel like you’re tarnishing that a little when you’re asking constantly for more and more time off.
Creating a ‘sustainable future’ for women in football
Rigby says while it’s been a testing season and she wouldn’t change anything, she hopes it’s easier for future generations of players to juggle work and football.
“I know, for example, the AFLW when they go away — they’re setting the bar really high — they get paid a daily allowance,” she says.
“On top of their contract, they get a little bit more. So I think we’ll try and push for something like that in the future so that we can give our working girls that opportunity and feel like they are supported if you have a mortgage or if you have financial commitments.
“I do want there to be a sustainable future for women in football.”
Rigby’s partner Ange Stannett plays for the Fremantle Dockers AFLW side and understands the challenges of juggling work, sport and a personal life.
“It’s so amazing to be in a relationship with someone that understands the sacrifices that you have to make,” she says.
“We both work a full day and then go to training, so it’s get up and out of the house by six, and then home by nine.”
Disrupted season’s silver lining
Despite the challenges faced by the league, teams and players, which has seen the Glory sit out a month of games due to Western Australia’s lockdown in February, Rigby says there are positives to be taken from the season.
Because of international travel restrictions, teams weren’t able to recruit foreign players, apart from some from New Zealand, which forced them to look for talent within their state.
“To give them the opportunity to step into the W-League so young and get that experience is amazing,” Rigby says.
The Glory has the youngest squad in the competition and the least experienced when ranked by W-League and Matildas appearances, but Rigby believes it puts the team in a strong position for future years.
“There’s a little bit of imbalance, but I love the underdog status. And I feel like if we keep playing like we do, we’re going to be amazing,” she says.
“It’s all about sustainability. And we’re building this year for next year.”
At 27, Rigby acknowledges sport has a use-by date, and she’s beginning to look to life after football.
She already works with a charity to improve literacy among Indigenous Australians through storytelling.
“What they do is go out to rural and remote communities, and they work with the communities to tell their story through story writing,” she says.
“They make little books and they help the community tell their story in their own individual way.”
Literacy is close to Rigby’s heart, stemming from her father, who is a children’s author.
“Storytelling is so important in terms of passing on your journey, your understanding and your lessons,” she says.
“I feel like particularly in Indigenous culture, that’s so important because they go back so far and their roots are so deep.”
Her work in correctional facilities has also drawn her attention to mental health and its effects on the community and it’s an area she wants to pursue.
“I’m actually thinking about studying psychology. So I think I’m going to try and pick that up next year,” she says.
“It is a long degree, but for me, it’s so sustainable and I’ll be able to do that for the rest of my life. So I think that’s what’s next on the cards for me.”