When 10-year-old Clare Wheeler tied up her boots for the first time she knew almost nothing about football.
Fast forward 15 years later and she is about to step out onto the biggest stage in football at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cupᵀᴹ.
Wheeler started her football career at Adamstown Rosebud JFC, where she only began playing because a friend asked her to join. Her family had limited football knowledge and had to learn along the way with Clare as her football career progressed.
“No one in my immediate family was football inclined and they kind of had to learn the rules of the game with me at the same time,” Wheeler said.
The Adamstown junior progressed quickly through the ranks into state teams and the Emerging Jets, before signing her first professional contract with the Newcastle Jets and later Sydney FC in the W-League.
Wheeler then made the move overseas after signing with Fortuna Hjørring before going on loan to Everton FC, which became a permanent signing at the start of 2023.
Wheeler was thankful to Adamstown Rosebud JFC and especially volunteer Kerry Conquest, who she said played a pivotal role in kickstarting her football career.
“It wasn’t probably until later I realised how influential [Conquest] was in terms of my career,” Wheeler said.
“She has definitely been a supporter of everything I’ve done and always checked in to congratulate me and stuff like that.”
With the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup kicking off tomorrow, the 25-year-old said she felt many different emotions heading into her first World Cup.
“A blend of nervous, excited and ready,” Wheeler said.
“It’s everything you’ve ever dreamed of. It’s hard to put into one single word.
“I’m definitely excited to get this World Cup underway.”
Getting the call up to be in the final 23-person squad meant a lot to Wheeler in knowing that all her hard work had paid off.
“I think it was a massive pat on the back for me,” Wheeler said.
“Everyone here has had to make sacrifices or decisions that sometimes you think, was that the right one or was it not, was that sacrifice worth it. When the end result is playing for your country at a World Cup I think it basically is that reassurance that what you’ve done has been the right thing to get you to this moment.”
Wheeler has fought for her place in the squad but maybe an indication of how highly she is rated was being presented with the number six shirt for the tournament.
Regardless, Wheeler is certain of the role she will play within the squad, determined to make a difference for her side and make the most of every minute she is on the pitch.
“Going into this World Cup my mind set is to have an impact and to take whatever opportunity comes my way,” Wheeler said.
“The biggest thing is to make an impact, whether that’s starting or coming off the bench.
“That can be attacking wise, making a final pass or creating an opportunity on goal or defensively, seeing out a game and denying opportunities.”
Wheeler believes that the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cupᵀᴹ will be big for the northern NSW area and hopes that it inspires the next generation of female footballers.
“The World Cup in general here will be huge for the region,” Wheeler said.
“The exposure is going to be massive to not only to have a women’s World Cup right on our doorstep but I think having some of the world’s best to show girls that it’s a world game,” Wheeler said.
“You can look in many different leagues and many different clubs and that kind of lifestyle of a professional female footballer is something that you can actually strive to be.
“I hope it inspires a lot of girls to take up the game and to pursue the game.”
After all of her footballing success so far, most of Wheeler’s family have become big supporters of the game but she is still trying to get her brother across the line.
“My dad definitely. He watches all of my games. He gets up at ridiculous hours to watch my games when I play in England,” Wheeler said.
“My brother, he will always support me but in terms of football, I think I am still trying to get him across the board.
“But he enjoys supporting me and enjoys anything that Australia is in.
“There is still more convincing to be done.”
Wheeler hoped that this home World Cup and stories like hers would encourage other young people and families not from football backgrounds to give the sport a go.
“Having the World Cup here it is going to show some of those people who might not be from footballing families or aren’t around football that this game can take you places if you give it a go,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler and the Matildas open the tournament against Republic of Ireland in Sydney at 8pm tomorrow night.
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