Kicking Goals and the Patriarchy
Anouk Meereboer is kicking down the patriarchy and making history as the first female to be appointed coach for a senior men's team in the LaTrobe Valley Soccer League.
In December 2021, Meereboer signed her name on the dotted line, officially anointing the 32-year-old coach to the Sale United Football Clubs senior men's team. Meereboer is the first female ever to coach a senior men's team since the Sale United Football Club and LaTrobe Valley Soccer League foundation.
Originally from the Netherlands, Meereboer spent her earliest years watching her older brother play soccer until the day she was big enough to join in. By the age of ten, Meereboer was playing soccer five to six days a week.
"I would play with friends on the streets, in the paddocks," she said.
"I would always walk down to the senior games on the weekends, I watched them training at night time, and if they didn't have enough people, I would always join in."
"I have always had a love for soccer," Meereboer said, smiling.
After finishing her university degree in the Netherlands, Meereboer headed abroad, backpacking across the globe before arriving in Australia in 2013. Whilst living in a hostel in Melbourne, Meereboer could not deprive her love and passion for soccer and sought to find a local team. Her talent and dedication earned Meereboer a spot in the National Premier League (NPL) playing for Box Hill United Football Club.
Meereboer was required to complete rural work to successfully meet immigration requirements to obtain a working visa and remain in Australia.
With a heavy heart, Meereboer approached her coach at Box Hill, sharing that she could no longer play because she was heading to Fulham to work on a dairy farm.
Unbeknownst to Meereboer, her Box Hill teammate Madelaine Breakspear lived in the Fulham area. Following a suggestion from their coach, the two women began travelling to their Box Hill games together from Gippsland, igniting a long-lasting friendship.
"When I was working on the farm, Maddy went to university in Bendigo. She was playing indoor soccer here in Sale. When she left, I ended up filling her spot on the team, which got me into the soccer community in Sale," said Meereboer.
Meereboer spent six years playing in the National Premier League, representing Box Hill United and Southern United Football Club.
After being diagnosed with compartment syndrome in both calf muscles, Meereboer concluded her final season in the NPL with Box Hill before undergoing surgery.
Unable to play soccer following surgery, Meereboer refused to abstain from the soccer world and took a coaching position for the Skills and Acquisitions Program (SAP) at Gippsland Football Club.
With an evident aptitude for education and training, Meereboer quickly advanced in her coaching career and was appointed assistant coach for Sothen United's under 19's Melbourne Premier League team.
From zero to one hundred, Meereboer was in high demand. So, whilst travelling to Melbourne to coach at Southern United, Meereboer maintained her coaching position with the SAP program at Gippsland FC.
To add more to her coaching demands, Meereboer also picked up Gippsland Football Clubs under 14's girl's team, which her work with would award Meereboer Football Victoria's Female Coach of the Year Award in 2019.
Astonishingly, at the same time, Meereboer was also coaching the SUFC under 16 boys, which she continued for the past two years.
"Last year, I wasn't planning on coaching at all, but the under 16 boys coach pulled out at the last minute, and I was asked by the juniors manager Laurel if I could coach, and I said yes," said Meereboer.
"Maddy, who was coaching the women's team, was due to have a baby, so I took over the women's team, and I took on the caretaker role for Sale United's senior men's team after the previous coach resigned," Meereboer continued.
"It was a busy year."
Despite only officially coaching one SUFC senior men's game in 2021 due to COVID, Meereboers tenacity, dedication, organisation, game knowledge, and exceptionally run training sessions, awarded her SUFC's 2021 Club Person of the Year and the top choice for the 2022 SUFC senior men's coach.
As the 2021 season wrapped up, SUFC Vice President Tom Breakspear contacted Meereboer with an offer that would make LVSL history, would she take on the position as the SUFC senior men's coach in 2022.
"I got a call from Tom," Meereboer recalled beaming.
"He asked me if I would be interested in coaching the senior men, and of course, I said yes, I would be interested."
The position is an entirely different challenge for the newly appointed SUFC senior men's coach, with the added pressure of being the league's first and only female senior men's coach. Still, Meereboer is showing no fear and says she is excited to take on the challenge and further her experience as a coach.
"For me, this a coaching job, an exciting role where I can learn new things and learn to deal with a different playing group, which I am really excited about but being the first female and only female feels weird," says Meereboer.
"But I like a challenge, and I am looking forward to it."
After the LVSL shared the groundbreaking news of the leagues, first-ever female, to coach a senior men's team, Meereboer received a bombardment of messages from women across the state.
"I received so many messages from other women, women that I have never met before, telling me that they are really impressed and really inspired," Meereboer told.
Modest Meereboer confessed she didn't realise how much impact her new, history-making role would have on women in the league and the broader community.
"It's quite overwhelming," said Meereboer.
Sale United Football Club provides Meereboer with their full support and confidence in the 32-year-olds coaching capabilities. SUFC shared on social media that with a female leader at the helm of men's football, President Kieran Murphy welcomes a new era in football. Murphy believes Meereboer's position as the senior men's coach is a great triumph to Sale United Football Club and the LaTrobe Valley Soccer League, hindering success on and off the field.
With soccer pre-season now underway, Meereboer is wasting no time with her senior men, with the coaches training sessions scrupulously designed to minimise injury and maximise gameplay.
As the 2022 LVSL season approaches, all eyes are on Anouk Meereboer. However, the question remains: will the first female ever coach a senior men's team in the history of the La Trobe Valley Soccer League triumph and lead Sale United to victory?