Sisters set high standards for a ‘Stars era

COALSTARS SHINE: Michelle Sawyers and Gail Williams look through old Coalstars memorabilia ahead of the club’s 35th anniversary.
COALSTARS SHINE: Michelle Sawyers and Gail Williams look through old Coalstars memorabilia ahead of the club’s 35th anniversary. Rob Williams

WHILE the former Coalstars Soccer Club is known for having produced dozens of top-performing men through the years, it has also been the breeding ground for great female players.

When Michelle Sawyers first laced on a pair of football boots as a 13-year-old in 1973, the women's side of the game was still in its infancy in south-east Queensland.

From one Ipswich team and perhaps three or four Brisbane teams in the early 70s, the game quickly grew after Michelle and her older sister Gail Williams (nee Barclay) became part of the early Coalstars women's teams.

A lot of the Barclay girls' drive came from their father, the late Keith Barclay, who devoted much of his life to the club and to developing women's football - eventually becoming a Coalstars life member.

"Dad was coaching a few teams at Coalstars and the women's team needed players," Gail said.

"Women were already playing when we started, but there were only a few teams around. We started asking our friends to come and play."

In times when the idea of women playing what was predominantly a man's game was a bit too much for some blokes to handle, some members of the team were lost when their partners simply told them that they were not to play football anymore.

Transport was another big challenge in getting the girls together for games.

Michelle said her father would often pack the entire women's team into his Holden station wagon.

"These were the days before anyone really worried about seatbelts," she said.

"Dad would get four or five in the boot with all the gear, four or five in the back seat, and a couple more up the front."

On top of coaching, there was fundraising.

Michelle and Gail's mum cooked

the chooks for the chook raffles her father would later hold at the Racehorse Hotel, helping to raise vital funds for the club.

Michelle became one of the country's best female players, representing Australia in internationals in 1983, and Taiwan in 1989, where she was named player of the tournament.

She was also part of the first women's World Cup squad in 1991, and was bitterly disappointed when the team failed to qualify for the finals tournament.

There was some compensation when she joined the 1995 squad, as manager, for its first World Cup finals in Sweden.

"That was great, but I wanted to be on the field," she said.

In all, Michelle remained at Coalstars from 1973-1992, while Gail was there until 1981.

Coalstars life member Ross Hallett said Mrs Sawyer set the standard for many of the younger female players who followed, such as Belinda Kitching, Kaylene Janssen and Bryony Duus.

It is thought the club had a women's side from as early as 1968.

"Coalstars produced many state and Australian players over a number of decades and continues to produce strong women's teams, with the Ipswich Knights ladies currently on top of the Brisbane Women's Premier League competition," Mr Hallett said.

The sisters are looking forward to catching up with old teammates at the former club's 50th anniversary reunion at the Ipswich Knights Clubhouse, from 3pm on August 30.

Organisers of the event are announcing a Select Coalstars Women's Team, along with the men's side, on the night.

Coalstars was formed out of a merger between Blackstone Rovers and Bundamba Rangers in 1964, producing many premiership-winning sides and great players until merging with St Helen's in 1998 to form the Ipswich Knights.

"It will be good to see all the girls that we haven't seen in a long time," Mrs Sawyers said.

Topics:  women's soccer

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