Women and girls make an incredible contribution to our game, both on and off the pitch. Throughout Female Football Week (1-10 May), we will be sharing YOUR stories to celebrate this contribution with the wider Victorian football community.
To kick-off the week, Patricia Groza shares a strong, personal story about how rekindling her relationship with football saved her life - literally.
I started playing football as a 10-year-old. The sport became a huge part of my life, with my dad personally coaching me on the sidelines and inspiring me with his own football career. I needed this sport in my life.
When I got to high school, I started prioritising academics and music, so I decided to stop playing football outside of school. This is one decision I regret the most in my life - I keep thinking “where could I have been now in football if I had stayed?” But I also wonder “would I have achieved all I have if I didn’t leave?”
During my five-year hiatus, I finished high school, started university and became a successful student. However, I had mental health problems lingering - problems that I never dealt with as a teenager. During this period, I realised that I was in fact missing football. So, I decided to join my old team.
I still remember the first touch I had, in my runners, watching my friends play - I’m pretty sure I almost slipped. “Rusty” was an understatement, to say the least. I no longer was a strong, attacking, goal scoring little footballer. I needed to rebuild my footballing self. But, little did I know that my own troubles would lead me to another hiatus.
I can’t actually remember the time frame, but during my first or second season back, I was admitted to hospital to get treated for an eating disorder. Doctors ruled me out from the game until it was deemed safe. I had been battling with the problem for several years, but only in my return to football did it exacerbate into a life-or-death situation. I remember not realising the gravity of how ill I was, assuring the doctors at the hospital that I’ll surely be able to get out for my important game - not too far from the hospital.
My memory of those years is quite hazy, so I’m unsure whether I made it to my final game of the season or not. But I do remember that it took a lot of mental workouts, social support and goal setting to get myself back on track. Strong and healthy to play.
I was driven by Michelle Heyman, who inspired me with her strength (and haircut) while I was in hospital, watching highlights of the Matildas games.
Eventually, after months of battle, I managed to reach my goal of playing senior football again. I believe I reached that goal so hard that I managed to become a better footballer than I was before I got into hospital.
Now I realise that football is not only a choice for me, but a privilege. I know now that I may not have ever been able to play football again. And I know that because of the time I missed out on, I need to work harder with my football. I don’t want to have any more time without football. Football saved my life.