Cassie Blakeway’s day begins about 7am. Preparation is essential as she packs everything she will need, since most days she won’t arrive back home until 10.30pm. In these 15 hours, Cassie will transform from a normal 26-year-old living down the coast with her partner, to a high school teacher then to an elite football player in the national Australian Football League for women players.
This is Cassie’s life, every day.
With mousy brown hair and soft eyes, Cassie exudes a kind of warmth, and a peculiar composure for someone with such a frantic schedule. She will rarely let herself be the topic of conversation, let alone disclose she is a player in the ALFW – yet there is no denying that football is and will always be her first love.
“I got into football through my dad,” she smiled. “He was obsessed with footy, and he brought me and my brother down to Auskick when we were little. I was always a sporty kid and wanted to do something sporty when I grew up.”
Though Cassie was a sprightly young girl infatuated with the footy, she described this passion as something she “wasn’t always determined to pursue, because it wasn’t available for girls”. This saw her pursue other sporting options, including softball and tennis. It wasn’t until she was 18 when she realised there were female football teams at an elite level.
When she turned 21, she moved to Bendigo, and began to chase a life of playing football competitively.
Not one, but two careers
“It’s tough.” These were the first two words Cassie said when asked about her two careers.
Cassie was recruited from the Geelong VFL Women’s team in May 2018. Around this time, she was also completing a Master’s degree that would qualify her to teach Outdoor Education and PE at a secondary level. Cassie knew if she was to pursue her football career, she would need to have another job away from the football field.
“Outdoor education was always a strong passion of mine, it is something I really enjoy doing. It’s not like a usual teaching job in the classroom – I get to go out and go surfing with my students all the time, take them on camps and take them out to play sports, so it’s a lot more enjoyable than if I was just in a classroom teaching,” she said.
Her passion for sport is clearly mirrored in both her professions, although balancing two careers often affects her both mentally and physically.
“Football is obviously very taxing on you physically, and you have to be mentally alert all the time because you’re not only teaching students, but you’re also trying to be your best so that you can get into the team each week,” Cassie said.
Despite sheer grit, her long list of priorities and the juggling of two careers can often result in sacrificing time with the important people in her life. It goes without saying almost every player in the women’s league has to balance work, sport and their private lives every day. Cassie admits life since beginning AFLW has “become a lot more hectic”.
“I don’t have a lot of time. During season it is so full on, especially when I started my new job teaching. I didn’t have a lot of time to spend with my partner or family and friends,” she said.
Hardly one to complain, Cassie acknowledges it is about taking the bad with the good.
“Though it is very tiring and consuming of my life, it is still highly enjoyable. When I moved from Bendigo to Torquay, that was the best thing I’ve ever done. It gave me the opportunity to play for The Cats,” she said.
‘We came home after work, sat on the couch, and nearly cried’
Many players in the ALFW have to grind through study, additional work and training all to embrace the love of the game. It’s only natural that sacrifices have to be made, and Cassie has seen her fair share.
“Heaps of girls from my team have moved from Melbourne to Geelong, or move partially through the week, so they have to do alternative things – even the top tier has to work at a different job,” she said.
On top of playing games, there’s also training, recovery and interstate matches.
“I am lucky that my school has been really good about it. I had to take three days off school and they were unpaid leave, because as teachers you just get holidays,” Cassie said.
There have been times, however, when it can get a bit too much.
“There was a time where we were playing on a Sunday, and you always have to leave a day before, but you can come back on the night you played,” she said. Cassie worked all week, Monday to Friday, and left for Adelaide on Saturday to play the following day.
“I didn’t get back until about 2am (Sunday), and then had to get up for work the next day at 7am. Sometimes it’s pretty difficult! So then I went to work Monday, but then I had to take Tuesday off … because I was f—ed!” she said.
Cassie’s girlfriend Olivia Prince also bears the weight of Cassie’s hectic schedule.
“We came home after work, sat on the couch and nearly cried!” Olivia said.
Yet in all its exhausting, taxing and sacrificial glory, kicking the footy every week makes it all worthwhile.
Whether it may come as a surprise or not, the women’s and men’s leagues are worlds apart in “a lot of different ways”. According to the latest AFL Report, the average man who participated in at least one senior match during the 2018 season earned between $300,001 – $400,000.
According to Cassie, this is simply not the case for the women’s league.
“The top earning player in ALFW – if you’re in the top tier – will earn $25,000,” Cassie said.
“There’s a massive, massive difference with that.”
This income is less than minimum wage, which sees Cassie, as well as many of her teammates, forced to balance two careers.
“Obviously we don’t bring in the income the men do, but to have an elite competition and not be able to have a minimum wage can be hard,” she said.
“To be honest, I don’t think it will ever be completely equal, but they’re doing everything the right way and taking all the right steps to try and make it so women can live off an AFL wage.”
What will Cassie be doing in five years’ time?
As for what the future holds, Cassie has plans other than football.
“I don’t think I will be playing footy in over five years,” she said.
“Especially if it is still the way that it is, and if I have to do two things – teach and play footy at the same time.”
She said the plan was to do quite a bit of travelling, and potentially move north to warmer weather.
However, her love for the game will never die, and she wishes nothing but the best for the league’s future stars.
“It’s going to be a younger competition later on, and I hope that they do just get to play footy and they don’t have to have another job, which would be really cool,” she said.