ANZACS ABROAD: A Q&A with Football Fern Betsy Hassett; the only Kiwi to play for Man City, Werder Bremen & Ajax
Gerard van Hees/Ajax Images
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ANZACS ABROAD: A Q&A with Football Fern Betsy Hassett; the only Kiwi to play for Man City, Werder Bremen & Ajax

"You go to these massive mens clubs and there are boys there that are way younger than we are, getting like triple the amount of support and money – it’s ridiculous.”
May 30, 2017, 10:22pm

If you check out a professional footballer's CV and see two FIFA World Cups, two Olympic campaigns and the clubs Manchester City, Werder Bremen and Ajax Amsterdam listed as clubs played at, you know you're going to be dealing with one hell of an impressive player.

Meet Betsy Hassett. Although she's just 26, the Auckland-born midfielder has already played for some of the world's top football clubs, in the world's top women's football leagues - as well as consolidating herself as a key member of New Zealand's Football Ferns.

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A high school star for Avondale College, Hassett's footballing career began in earnest when she moved to the States to play for the University of California in 2009 to play soccer and study.

Hassett flourished in Berkeley with regular regional honours, which saw her potential professional stock rise to point where she was able to secure a contract with German club SC Sand in 2013.

Since then, Hassett – who currently finishing up a year-long contract with Ajax - has undertaken a Grand Tour of Europe's top women's leagues with seasons at England's Man City (2014), Norway's Amazon Grimstad (2015), Germany's Werder Bremen (2016) and her current year with Ajax.

While carving out her pro career, the Amsterdam-based Hassett has become an indispensible member of the Football Ferns since making her debut, as a 17-year-old in 2008.

The midfielder has notched up 99 caps for New Zealand, and played in all six games for the Football Ferns at the 2011 and 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, in Germany and Canada respectively. In addition, Hassett was played for New Zealand at both the 2012 London and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

This season has been a good one for Hassett, as a member of an Ajax side who won the Women's Eredivisie – for the first time ever - and will play in the league's cup final this weekend.

It may be Hassett's last game for Ajax, though you can guarantee there's a few more clubs, and honours, to be added to that impressive CV yet.

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Despite her successes, Hassett's career has had its fair share of struggles. While playing in Europe, she has experienced, first-hand, the massive inequality in pay and resources between male and female pro footballers.

The issue is widespread. As recently as last August, Newsweek reported that the highest paid female footballer in the UK, Steph Houghton, was paid £65,000 [around NZ$117,500] a year while Wayne Rooney, the highest paid male, received £300,000 [around NZ$542,000] a week.

The 24-year-old midfielder recently spoke to VICE Sports AUNZ about her football career, the continuing inequality between men's and women's football – and that time she taught kids football skills with City star Gael Clichy.

Kiwi midfielder Betsy Hassett playing the United States during the Rio Olympics Games last year. Photo credit: © John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports.

Kia ora, Betsy. You've played professionally right across Europe. How does the Dutch league stack up against the German, English and Norwegian ones?

"Obviously, we've got the best team but the depth of the league is not the best. FC Twente is the other pretty good team, and it was a battle against them. There's eight teams in the league, and the other ones are not so good.

"So not as competitive as England or Germany, but it would be interesting to see how we would go against the top team in Sweden or England or something because we haven't played them."

What is the approach to football in Holland?

"It's super technical, and tactical. I'm learning a lot, in that sense, because I'm used to playing in the leagues that are more physical and a bit more of a fight.

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"Here, it's total football tactics and everyone is technically really good. There's not much physicality involved – a little bit but nowhere near the other leagues – but I've quite liked that.

"I've learnt a lot, football-wise, about how to play a really good style of football instead of just fighting all the time which is what we're quite used to in New Zealand."

Your contract with Ajax is up at the end of this season. Are you keen to stay around?

"Yes, and no. I really wanted to win the league and we've done that, so that's been a big exciting thing. But I've only been coming on at the end of games here – I'm not a regular starter. I come off the bench pretty much every game and I don't know whether that's what I want to do for another whole season or not.

"Even though it has been awesome being here, I don't know whether I want to sit on the bench for another whole season and just come on for the last 20 or 30 minutes."

"Everything else has been great – it's a very organized, very professional club. It's been amazing in terms of facilities, we get fed every day after training and the schedule is awesome. We play on Friday evenings and train every mornings.

"Other leagues I've been part of you train late at night and play Sundays, so you don't have any time to do anything else with your life."

Betsy Hassett celebrating with her team mates after Ajax won the Women's Eredivise last week. Photo credit: Gerard van Hees/Ajax Images.

More and more young Kiwi footballers – both female and male – are playing in the college system in the United States before embarking on their professional careers. Why do you think that's happening?

"[In New Zealand], if you're a girl and you finish high school but weren't quite good enough for the national team yet, there is a huge gap. You aren't good enough for the national team, but you're too good for the league in New Zealand.

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"There's kind of nowhere to go – so [the United States college system] is the perfect place to bridge that gap. At one point, New Zealand Football was discouraging it quite a bit for the Under-20 girls. Back in the day, they wanted everyone back in New Zealand training for the World Cup and what not. That was pretty bad of them.

"You can go to America and play at a way better level than you can in New Zealand, and get a degree at the same time. I can be a really great thing for girls to do."

After playing at SC Sand, you did a stint with Manchester City. What was that experience like?

"I was there the first season that they had a woman's team. It was pretty cool, because it was new to everyone. They gave a bunch of money to start and develop the women's programme. It was cool to be part of the first group of girls.

"We didn't do that well, but three or four years later, now they're winning everything. They're getting more media and more coverage; it keeps getting better and better.

"They were investing in the team – they were the best club I've played for. They keep getting better and better, winning more things and putting money into it – the investment is working. Some clubs I've been in the past they have a woman's team, but they're not really putting anything into it. At Man City, they were doing a lot to improve it."

Was there much crossover with the City guys' team, at all?

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"Yea, we did some community events with them every now and then. I remember doing an event with Gael Clichy, with little kids out in the community.

"Otherwise, we'd just see them rolling in and out of the car park with their fancy, really amazing cars. We got to go to a lot of their games as well, which was pretty cool."

In terms of the bigger picture, what's the experience like as a professional women's footballer in Europe? There is obviously a massive amount of inequality in terms of wages and resources for the women in football – how does that translate at the level you've been playing at?

"On one side, it's so cool to be able to be a professional footballer. It's an unbelievable experience, and that's why I do it. On the other side, it is frustrating. You go to these massive men's clubs and there are boys there that are way younger than we are, getting like triple the amount of support and money – it's ridiculous."

"We train just as much and do the exact same thing, if not more – and are even more successful sometimes. [But] there's the unequal pay – things like that. That's what is really frustrating.

Betsy Hassett playing for New Zealand against Canada in Winnipeg at the 2015 FIFA World Cup. Photo credit: © Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

"The fact is we can't play professionally in New Zealand so we come [to Europe] to experience being a professional footballer. But that's one thing I'd absolutely love in the future; New Zealand having a professional women's league. It would be so awesome. My teammates here [in Europe] have grown up having a professional league – that's normal for them.

"I would absolutely love to play professional football back home, with my family and friends around me – and inspire the younger girls in New Zealand when they see it in front of them, and see that it is possible."

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In February, Football Ferns captain Abby Erceg retired from international football, aged just 27, after being fed up by New Zealand Football (NZF) for their lack of support for the women's game. Most fellow Football Ferns, and fellow international players, voiced their support for her decision at the time. What is your feeling on the relationship between NZF and the Football Ferns now?

"There's been a bit of processing this year, since the Olympics. We didn't do so well [in Rio] and we've only seen each other once since the Olympics. It's been pretty un-motivating really, just having nothing the whole year and no support. I play professional – and only play professionally because I want to be better for my country.

"When you don't get the back-up; I mean, I don't know where New Zealand Football is taking us from now. It doesn't seem like we have that much direction at the moment. I think a big part of the processing is the rethinking of everything, and our next four-year plan.

"I hope that they are going to invest a bit more into us. It's sad to see people like Abby having to leave because they don't get enough support. I think it gave [NZF] a big kick, the whole Abby leaving thing, because otherwise they're going to lose more and more players.

"So, yea, they have started to do some things now to improve the system, like a player development thing in New Zealand where the girls can play in the boys league.

"So they're getting regular games together – that's really good for the back. That's really encouraging and exactly what we needed, for a start."