Whenever someone uses the moniker “Mr Football’, there could only ever be one man they are talking about: the late E.J. Whitten.
By the time he retired from playing football in 1971, he was the games record holder, 1954 premiership hero for Footscray, multiple Victoria representative and All-Australian, and regarded as one of the best to have ever played the game.
|Image provided by AFL Victoria.|
His involvement in this great game continued in roles such as non-playing coach for Footscray and Williamstown, and chairman of selectors for Footscray and Victoria. The ability he had to create hype around State of Origin football was the stuff of legend.
If one was to pose the question to those in the female football community, particularly in the state with greatest participation being Victoria, of who is the female equivalent, there could easily be a case mounted for the 300-game champion Debbie Lee or this generation’s greatest player, Daisy Pearce.
However, if one individual from Melbourne’s eastern suburbs continues to produce more of what she has currently done so far, all the others will be left in the shadows and she would be the undisputed “Ms Football”.
That young woman is Katherine Smith.
Consider the following achievements: Smith has represented Victoria at underage level seven times, is a three-time All-Australian, captained the Yarra Junior Football League to a Youth Girls championship, captained her country in a tour of New Zealand, captained the Sandringham Dragons academy side and played almost 200 games.
Adding to that already impressive list of achievements, this year she made her VWFL Premier Division debut with the Eastern Devils, all while coaching the under-15 girls team at Blackburn, which earned her the Peta Searle Female Football Coach of the Year Award.
Not bad at all, for someone who can’t legally drink, drive or vote – Katherine is just 17.
Speaking on the Girls Play Footy Podcast earlier in the year, she outlined a typical week in her life.
“For me, I’d normally have club training Monday nights,” Smith explained
“Tuesdays, night off I guess, but every second week there’s Sandy training, so I’ll have that. Wednesdays, I’ll have Vic Metro. Thursdays will be a night off.
“I also play basketball on Fridays, so it gets a bit hectic. Saturdays, a Youth Girls game and Sundays, basketball again. Pretty busy schedule, but I love it.”
The schedule is incredible, when you consider Smith also has to balance her high school studies outside of her sporting life, but she does have a support network around her.
“All my coaches, I talk to them,” Smith said, keeping them regularly informed about her study load.
“Just managing which training sessions I do, looking after my body and making sure I get my homework done.”
In-between her school work and training, Smith managed to go one better than Tom Hafey and his Collingwood VFL side of 1977: taking a team from last to the premiership.
Her philosophy is a combination of development and fun.
“I want to try and develop the girls as much as I can, get the most out of them and their football.
“(Importantly) have heaps of fun on the way.
The 17-year-old Female Football Coach of the Year received high praise for her professionalism from Blackburn Director of Football, Dave Ramsdale.
“Katherine is a very impressive coach and leader for young ladies in the development of female football,” Ramsdale said.
“Our girls are fortunate to benefit from Katherine’s extensive experience.
“She draws inspiration from her players in their willingness to learn and their passion for the game.”
The Blackburn under-15 girls coach not only receives glowing reviews from those at the club older than her, but from her players as well, such as Hannah Jacobs.
“Smitty has a great understanding of footy, is a fantastic role model, and is incredibly well prepared for training and games,” Jacobs said.
“She is an inspirational coach and she has also taught us the love of the game.”
Judging by the impressive record already acquired by “Ms Football”, there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing her making a big impact on the national stage from 2017 onward – we’ll just have to wait and see whether it’s on the ground or in the coaches box.