When Leena Khamis first started playing football, there was no such thing as the W-League.
“Back in my day there was only young Matildas, which was under 19s, 20s and then Matildas — there was nothing under that,” she said.
While things have changed a lot since then, the 34-year-old striker, who plays for the Western Sydney Wanderers Football Club, says a new program designed to uncover a new generation of women’s football superstars in Western Sydney will be a game changer.
“The training camp that they’ve got coming up for young girls 14 to 17, it’s awesome. I wish I had that at that age,” she said.
“Just to get exposure, to get recognition, to get recognised and to keep striving to be a Wanderer female player one day.
Thirty young women between the ages of 14 to 17 will be selected during open trials in late April to take part in the free 20-week Future Wander Women development program.
It’s a way of giving girls — particularly those living in Western Sydney — a chance to uncover and develop their football skills.
The program itself will kick off Wednesday, May 5 at the Western Sydney Wanderers home ground in Blacktown.
Ms Khamis grew up in Minto in the Campbelltown Local Government Area and has played 13 seasons in the W-League.
“I grew up in the West. I’m a Westie. I’ve lived and breathed out here so it’s like I’m playing at home.
“Some girls go overseas — they’ve got that dream to go overseas. But playing at home in front of friends and family and fans — we love playing — we love football and to play at the top level — you can’t wait for it year in year out.
‘Just so happy’
Bryleeh Henry, 17, from Penrith also feels she’s living the dream. She recounted the moment she found out she was selected for her first professional contract at the Western Sydney Wanderers.
“My dad was in the car and he was just trying to be quiet but he was throwing his hands up in the air and then he started crying,” she said.
“When I got off the phone, I started crying and called my mum and we went home and we were up till two o’clock that night — we were just so happy.”
The centre forward hopes to follow in the footsteps of fellow striker, Sam Kerr.
She says her parents sacrificed a great deal to get her to training when she was growing up, and it was hard on the family financially.
“I just hope I can make them proud and make it worth it in the end.”
Former Socceroo and head coach for the Western Sydney Wanderers Women’s team, Dean Heffernan, said the free initiative would offer opportunities to girls who could build a foundation in football with an eye to joining the academy in the future.
“I think for girls in the current environment it can be quite daunting and difficult for them to find a pathway to be able to express themselves and be the best they can be,” he said.
He said scouts would be looking for players who had a good attitude and raw talent — true future superstars.
“You’ve got to love the game, first and foremost, because you can handle setbacks then. And when you have setbacks, if you love something enough, you can always come back.
“We want people all over Western Sydney to be able to come and take up this opportunity because a lot of kids around Western Sydney don’t often get an opportunity to train and play at the Wanderers, let alone young girls in that age bracket.