Emma Main started kicking a football around at the Upper Hutt Football Club, just down the road from where the women’s Phoenix now train.
“I was always at Phoenix games, I had Phoenix merch, I was definitely an avid supporter,” she says.
At the age of 10, she was a ball kid for the Phoenix men when they played home games at Sky Stadium. And now she’s come full circle.
The 24-year-old versatile forward is finally wearing the yellow and black of the Nix on the pitch, in her first season as a professional footballer.
“Something I definitely don’t take for granted is being able to play in front of my family and friends, especially at a home stadium,” says Main. “It’s pretty surreal, having the tables turned and me now being on the pitch.”
Two years ago, Main approached Paul Temple, then the technical director at the Wellington Phoenix Academy, to tell him she wanted to have a serious shot at going pro.
Temple told her: “Let’s make that happen,” and Main became Temple’s first signing when he took over as the new women’s Phoenix head coach this season.
Main made a positive impression when she was called into the Phoenix side as an injury replacement for the final week of last season’s A-League, vowing to “leave it all out on the field”.
As a kid, Main wanted to play rugby alongside her friends who were mostly boys, but her mum said “absolutely not”. Main’s dad compromised, and suggested football, where Main could still play with her mates.
“I really enjoyed it and have loved it ever since then,” Main says, who dabbled in other sports in school, including running. But football has always been number one.
She took up a scholarship at the University of Illinois in Chicago, before returning back to New Zealand because of an injury. It was not long after her return home she approached Temple, who was appointed head coach of the women’s Phoenix team in June for two seasons.
When Main started at the Phoenix Academy, there were only a handful of girls involved, so they all trained with the boys.
“I think that was a real key piece in my development,” says Main. “The boys are much more physical and faster, so just having to adapt to that technically really helped my growth.”
Main was a training partner for the Phoenix last year, an experience that made her hungrier for a full-time, permanent contract.
“It was awesome being with the group last season, training in a high performance environment is always going to be good for your growth,” she says.
She took the pitch at the end of the season as an injury replacement, and was a bit nervous for her A-League debut.
“But all of the expectation was kind of stripped off me before the game, when they said just go out there and do what we know you can do,” she remembers.
“And hopefully that was reflected in my performance and the reason why I got named in the next squad for the next game.”
Getting the call from Temple to say she had been offered a spot in the Phoenix for the 2023/24 season was a special moment for Main.
“It was awesome, he was my coach all throughout the Academy, so I knew that he knew what I could do,” she explains. She almost blanked out during the phone call before ringing her parents to share the news.
“I was really stoked but I was also a little bit excited at the fact he believed in me and he also helped me get to this spot here.
“He was with me all through last year, helping me through training with the first team and coming back into the Academy. So it was awesome to finally get the call up to actually make the squad for the whole season.”
Having a professional women’s football team based in New Zealand is an incredible opportunity for those who want to pursue football, Main believes.
“It definitely provides more of an opportunity to go professional in New Zealand. We never really had that option,” she explains, players having to go overseas if they wanted to go pro.
“But now having the Wellington Phoenix, we’re able to get more girls in within the domestic scene and really get them through the Academies and the various national leagues.
“And we can pull them into teams like the Phoenix and even other teams in the A-League – just providing more chances and options for girls who want to excel in football.”
Main loved seeing the success of the FIFA Women’s World Cup this year, with sold-out stadiums across Aotearoa and Australia for multiple teams.
“That was awesome, I don’t think I’ve ever seen New Zealand really get behind our team like that before,” she says.
“Whether that was people who didn’t play football, people who did play football, I saw so many different types of people at the stadiums and at the games.”
Balancing football with her job as a project co-ordinator at the Ministry of Education is challenging, but Main has a good team around her – including Phoenix teammate Mickey Robertson.
“They’re really supportive in the fact that they know my dreams and goals and aspirations, both on the field and off the field – in a professional setting and a sporting setting,” Main says of her co-workers.
“It’s awesome to have a team like that around me and I don’t think I could play football like I do if I didn’t have those people around me.
“And then obviously having Mickey Robertson as a co-worker helps as well because we’re both going through the same things, at similar times.”
Main has a Bachelor of Commerce from Victoria University, in accounting and management, studying parts of it over in the US.
“It doesn’t really follow on from where I studied, but there’s definitely aspects of my degree that I can implement in my day job as well,” she says.
She’d like to use her degree in the future, but football is her focus for now. Main isn’t looking too far into the future, simply embracing this season with the Phoenix.
“I definitely am a person who takes one day at a time,” she says.
“I don’t think this is it for me, I’ll definitely be keen to go and do more and whether that’s with the Phoenix, or overseas, I’m not sure yet.
“But I’m just really trying to enjoy my time here right now and really lap up this opportunity.”
*The Wellington Phoenix take on Western United at 4pm on Sunday, with coverage on Sky Sport 5. The team is sitting third on the A-League ladder after their first three matches.
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