Rebekah van Dort’s football roots are firmly in NZ, but the national champion defender is taking her chance to experience the sport on the other side of the globe.
Rebekah van Dort was born to be a legend of Auckland football.
Her parents met at the Metro Football Club in Auckland, and she started playing there around the age of four.
And after her dad, John, won a national title with Metro, van Dort won the women’s edition 26 years later.
Van Dort has been playing for Eastern Suburbs AFC since graduating from Mount Albert Grammar School, amassing an incredible 170 caps for the club.
A captain ever since she’s been a ‘Lilywhite’ (the Eastern Suburbs’ nickname), van Dort rounded out her eighth season with the team by winning the final of the National League Championship in December.
And as much as her heart is tied to the club, van Dort is finally leaving home and heading to Canada, to play for Electric City in Ontario.
It wasn’t a clear cut decision. Her home team means everything to van Dort, starting there as a 17-year-old.
“I’ve matured a lot and the club’s been a very big part of that,” the now 25-year-old says.
Eastern Suburbs beat Western United 4-0 at the end of last year to hoist the national league trophy for the first time in the club’s history; van Dort leading the side as captain.
“It was the final cherry on top, the final big thing to tick off and it was the best feeling,” she says. Her tireless work on defence was key to keeping Western United scoreless.
“We had such a good national league run, and that part of the season was like a dream. Everything we’d been working for just clicked into place.”
It was also a special moment for her family, with John van Dort captaining his team to the men’s national league title in 1996 – before Rebekah was born.
“That was pretty cool for both of us to realise,” van Dort says, joking that it’s now become a family tradition.
After feeling she had achieved her goals in New Zealand, van Dort had a chat with Eastern Suburbs coach, Stephen Hoyle, about playing abroad. He reached out to clubs in Canada, where he’d played before, and helped her to make a deal with Electric City.
The team based in Peterborough plays in the semi-professional League1 Ontario women’s division.
Electric City head coach Randy Ribeiro says the team are looking forward to having van Dort’s leadership on board. “She’s a ball playing centre-back that has great vision. She sees the game very well, has excellent passing range and is comfortable playing out of pressure. Her leadership and experience are something we look for her to bring to help us have a successful 2023 campaign.”
Nerves are mixed with excitement for van Dort, who leaves next month for the season running from April to August.
“I’ve been training lots, it’s getting pretty exciting,” she says, connecting with her new teammates on social media. “You can kind of see what their lives are like, it’s all becoming a bit more real.”
Van Dort will have a part-time job while playing, with the club having great relationships with their community and helping their players get jobs that fit around their schedule.
She’ll be over in Canada for their summer, which she’s been told by her new coach can reach temperatures in the mid-30s, with dry heat.
For someone who loves the ocean, being based in landlocked Peterborough in the south east of Canada, van Dort has to prepare herself for new experiences. Checking out the lakes and national parks will be a way to spend her days off.
She just finished her Masters in marine conservation at the University of Auckland – her big passion outside of football.
“The ocean’s always been my first love, I just love the water,” van Dort says.
“Growing up in Auckland, we’re surrounded by the ocean and I would just like to see it thrive, and help protect it and manage it.”
Working in marine conservation is a goal once her football career comes to an end.
“Hopefully work in a managerial role to do with planning marine reserves, or that sort of stuff and hopefully get lots of diving in,” she says.
Once the season with Electric City is over, van Dort plans to head over to the west coast, potentially travelling between Canada, the United States and Central America for work experience.
Van Dort has always been a leader, laughing that she was a bit of a “bossy teenager”. She describes herself as loud and outspoken as a captain, but is also very kind and friendly, important traits for a leadership role in a team.
“It’s really important to me that there’s a good team culture and togetherness, so I think that all kind of worked together quite well,” says van Dort, who captained the Eastern Suburbs team every single match she played.
“I’m quite competitive so it’s really important for me to have high standards at trainings.”
She also started coaching at Eastern Suburbs, part-time around her own games and trainings. “I think being a coach helped me as a player as well,” van Dort says.
“You’d be instructing a player you’re coaching on what to do and you’d be like ‘Oh I actually don’t do that’, so you’d start picking up small things like that too.”
Van Dort believes the young girls she coaches are seeing more of a future for themselves in football, with the variety of opportunities out there now.
“A lot of girls now go to the States for scholarships, and the availability and options seem way greater,” she says, also noting how many now have dreams of staying home and playing with the Wellington Phoenix.
At just 25, van Dort still considers herself on the older end of playing in New Zealand, but wants women and girls to know there are still opportunities for players her age.
“I feel like there’s always quite a young cohort in football,” she says. “So it’s cool there are opportunities still when you get a bit older.”