Aimee Phillips is a football player, teacher, business owner and more. The New Zealand Football Fern is residing in Sydney and is in another Grand Final this weekend with the Northern Tigers.
Aimee Phillips has gone through her fair share of adversity in football.
After two years representing the New Zealand Football Ferns, the 27-year old found herself out of favour with selectors in 2017.
A move overseas coupled with her persistence and passion saw the West Coaster from Greymouth make a comeback into the 2019 Cup of Nations tournament squad.
Unfortunately, the end goal of making the FIFA World Cup team was hindered by a bad injury before the tour to Spain causing Plantar Fasciitis in both feet which left her struggling to walk.
Despite the heartbreaking news, it was not enough for Phillips to stop playing the sport she loves. As always, she adapted, reflected and channelled her energy into helping others reach their football dreams and her own.
“At the moment, I’m playing in Australia (Sydney, NPL) and I also have a recruitment role for Wagner & Woolf which seeks elite US football scholarships for players. The number of people reaching out on social media to find out more information is positive and telling for the future of women’s football and sport in general,” says Phillips.
One special moment of her own was playing against the legendary Marta on debut and winning 1-0.
“That whole experience was unbelievable. Playing Marta was amazing but finding out I had made the New Zealand squad to travel to Brazil for the first time was surreal.
“I was actually in class teaching when I got the phone call. I will never forget it because in that moment I realised all the hard work and sacrifices my family and I had gone through was worth it.
To share it with my South Auckland school kids’ was perfect because they helped me get through some tough times. For me, I felt bad that I could not have spent as much time with them, but some of my colleagues reminded me that sharing the journey with my children would probably be something they will never forget, I guess I gave them some more hope.”
Another moment for the memory bank was playing in front of 35,000 people.
“In America the stadiums are sold out because they love their women’s football. To see how much they appreciate and respect women’s football was breathtaking. I hope one day it can be like that in NZ.”
Persistence pays off
Some may say Phillip’s journey is unique. The striker made her Football Ferns debut at the age of 24 – perhaps a late bloomer in football terms but definitely not in Phillip’s books.
It was a rocky road to the top but her persistence paid off. Her first attempt at trialling for New Zealand was not ideal. She was told she needed to be ten times better than anyone else on the pitch if she wanted to be carded.
So away she went to train, sleep and train some more. Phillips returned a month later only to be refused again.
“On reflection and in all honesty I wasn’t fit enough and I wasn’t strong enough at the time. But I didn’t want to give up because I knew I was technically good, I just needed to try something different.”
The naturally optimistic schoolteacher quit her job in Christchurch, packed up her life and moved to Auckland.
After a year in Auckland, her dream of making the Football Ferns was fading. Phillips wanted to throw in the towel several times but her fighting spirit kept her going. She even went as far as investing in her own personal trainer and nutritionist to reach her goal.
“Getting up for 6:30am training sessions, going to full time work and then onto club training was my normal schedule. It was a lot but I was in the best shape physically and it showed when I made the New Zealand side.
“I slept in my car a lot, because I drove hours to get to training, I remember packing my peanut butter sandwich and looking forward to it an hour before I had to get into the zone, sad but true.
“I really had to look for the little things that held happiness for me during that time, trainings took all my strength and complete nerves, it took so much effort to turn up, and to keep showing up.
“I have really brought that to my life now; be it at an interview that I probably don’t think is best for me, a trial I am exposed at or teaching english to clients for the first time – I show up, I think that is so important.”
After two years travelling the world with New Zealand, Phillips was dropped.
Not ready to hang up the boots, Phillip’s took the opportunity to reassess her situation during the public break down of NZ Football in 2018.
She decided it was the right time to leave NZ to explore other avenues as comfort starting to creep in to her game.
“I needed a new challenge; I had been playing for a long time and had won multiple titles but I wanted to get back into the national side so it came down to where would I thrive most as a player.”
Europe was the answer. A Super League title with her first contract in Serbia was a good start to testing the waters overseas. From there Phillips travelled to Wales for the Champions League and onto Germany.
Scattered amongst the football contracts were destinations on her OE list – Hungary, Croatia, England, Ukraine, Macedonia and Greece.
Although the travel sounds luxurious, the reality was not postcard pretty.
“I know why people don’t leave home now – it is not easy! It was a struggle but I learnt a lot about myself. I needed to understand that it is ok not to be ok.
“I had to grow up very fast, and even now being away from home I have days where I really question my lifestyle and what I do but I have learnt to be ok with being different and own that and especially my journey.”
“The language barrier was another challenge but the upside of travelling the world is the range of food. I’m a big foodie and coffee fiend so making sure I was happy outside of football was important especially while I was away from family and friends.”
Where to from here?
At this stage, Phillips is trying to find her real purpose in life – football is her first love but what is her calling beyond the final whistle?
Sharing her experiences and lessons on her blog is one-way Phillips is giving back as well as coaching at Pymble Ladies College and the Northern Tigers SAP programme.
On top of all of that, Phillips decided to start and run her own English Language Business as a freelance consultant.
“I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to coach, it has given me a huge appreciation for the game and filled my heart with love for all those I have worked with this season.”
“I love helping wherever I can, I didn’t realise that there was such a need to learn English or to teach here in Sydney so I am really enjoying learning new aspects of acquisition and working in different roles. I’m sacred, I never know what is in store for me anymore.”
“When I think about everything I’ve encountered I know I need to pass it on to the next generation. When I started out the senior players helped us newcomers and they did it with nothing. Nowadays there are so many opportunities for women in football so I want to pay it forward.”
“This season has been an extremely difficult one for me with my feet and the frustration behind not being able to play the way I usually do.”
“There are a lot of things I would like to mention but will not after our Grand Final this week. I guess, the season has made me really reflect on what is important and my health is one thing that I will never compromise ever again.”
Long term, there are many more milestones Phillips would like to achieve – creating successful businesses so she can give back to her family and community, promoting new merchandise, completing a PhD and getting to the core of what her mark in society will be.
For now though, making family a priority and enjoying the game is a must ahead of the Grand Final this weekend.