Nine months ago, Cortnee Vine stood atop a grassy cliff in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, watching a helicopter slowly lower a giant soccer ball onto a pedestal set up to celebrate the upcoming Women’s World Cup.
Later in the morning, she took part in a panel alongside some of the biggest names in Australian sport such as Ian Thorpe and Jess Fox. She mingled with media, brand ambassadors and VIP guests. She juggled the brand new “OCEAUNZ” ball in front of cameras that would broadcast her image around the world.
But the whole experience was weird, like it was happening to someone else.
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“I was like, ‘Holy shit, what’s going on? Why am I here?'” she later told ABC.
“These big media events in the build-up to the World Cup… being there with incredible athletes who have done so much.
“I feel like an impostor when I participate in these things. I’m like, ‘Am I supposed to be here?’ That’s how I feel even at the Matildas. I have to be brave, that’s for sure.”
She had not yet been selected for the final squad – that would happen a little later, in early July – but as one of the only players based in Australia, she quickly became one of the national representatives of the team as preparations for the tournament gathered pace. up.
“It’s been going on for the whole of last year, to be honest, going to these events… it hasn’t really hit me yet that I’m in this position where I have the opportunity to represent my country now,” she declared.
“I’m playing with some of the best players in the world, players I’ve watched at the Matildas for years. And now I get to go and train with them. It’s surreal.”
That perplexity has only intensified in the two months since the World Cup proper, where Vine became a household name after scoring the Matildas’ winning penalty against France in the quarter-final.
Now she can barely go out in public without being recognized.
“Honestly, it was just crazy, zero to 100,” she said. “I walk down the street and people say to me, ‘Oh my God, are you who I think you are?’
“A lot of fathers come up to me just to shake my hand and say, ‘Thank you for what you did for my daughter.’ These really hit home.
“For example, you see the number of people who watched this moment, but you don’t register that it’s all individual people who watched this moment…I (didn’t) realize how many people were watching until what I get out of this bubble.
“Last week I went to Tangalooma Island just to make a little appearance, got a helicopter back to Brisbane Airport, then went back to training. Oh, and this morning- there I was playing cricket with the Prime Minister.
“So it was, yeah… it was a crazy couple of days.”
The whirlwind continues this week with the launch of the 2023/24 A-League Women season, the competition of which she has suddenly become the face, her face splashed across bulletins and billboards advertising the opening round which begins SATURDAY.
At the launch event on Tuesday, as the host listed the names of the Socceroos and other international players, it was his that threw the room into a whirlwind, cameras clicking and whirring. Once the formalities were over, a small group of local schoolchildren wearing shin guards and boots rushed up to her to ask for autographs as soon as they could.
But with major European clubs seeking Vine’s signature after his stellar performances with the Matildas this year, the winger decided to stay in Australia for another campaign with Sydney FC.
And while defending the team’s Premiership-Championship double title is a motivating factor, her reasons for staying go beyond the dream world she has created for herself on the pitch.
“I love Australia. I love Sydney. I have a life here that’s not just about football,” she said.
“I think a lot of people think football is your whole life. I have to make decisions. I have a partner. Do I want to leave?
“There’s just a lot to weigh, and for me right now, I was progressing so well in this league and my life is so good that I just don’t see the point in leaving now.”
Recognizing the role the ALW has played in her career – and that of every other Matilda who has appeared at the World Cup – Vine feels she almost has a responsibility to be part of the generation of players who are pushing forward the league.
After an exodus of its most prominent players before the COVID-19 pandemic, the ALW has lost visibility and popularity. Its appeal to new or casual women’s soccer fans waned after the only big names they recognized disappeared across oceans and behind paywalls.
But Vine is one of many players who have returned this season, joining Lydia Williams, Kyah Simon, Tameka Yallop, Chloe Logarzo, Elise Kellond-Knight and Emily Gielnik to bring star power back to the competition and re-connect the Matildas to the league that produced them.
“That’s one of the main things we should be focusing on: bringing more girls back (to Australia),” she said.
“We need to get there full-time, we need to pay better and be more professional in this league. We’re getting there, but we still have a lot of work to do.
“That’s why these girls left and stayed away; because these (overseas) leagues are professional, they pay a lot more than this league. And I just think once we start If you fix this problem, they will start to come back.
“I’ve been in the A-League since I was 17. Someone could have followed my career from 17 if they wanted to. I think it’s so cool that you can follow someone now and he could end up playing for Chelsea or in a World Cup.
“I think it’s so important that our faces are here. We represent this country. It’s so important to be part of the national league and to show the girls that this is the way to go. You go to the National Premier Leagues, you go A- League, and you go Matildas, you know?
Like Vine, ALW has had a modest, almost shy history, kept from taking up space or drawing too much attention to itself.
But never before has the competition had an opportunity on such a large and glittering stage as this, with several clubs already experiencing the halo effect of the tournament with record membership sales and sell-out opening matches .
Now with 12 teams, a full 22-round home-and-away season, an expanded finals series, brand-new training and playing facilities, improved broadcasting, more accessible ticketing and increased pay and professionalism for the players, the little competition that could is about to realize the potential it always had.
And this time, Vine won’t stand on the sidelines wondering if he belongs there. She wants to be in the heart of the hurricane.