Spotlight On Michelle Heyman – The W-League’s Record Goalscorer21 Mar, 2021
Michelle Heyman has just overtaken Sam Kerr to become the W-League’s all-time record goalscorer. After missing the competition last year, the 32-year-old has come back better than ever at her spiritual home of Canberra United this season – and the calls for a Matildas return gets louder with each passing week.
Michelle Heyman has been there, done it all and got the T-shirt to tell the tale. The 32-year-old is enjoying an outstanding season in the W-League which has culminated in her becoming the league’s all-time record goal-scorer.
Born in the Shellharbour, New South Wales, 53 miles south of Sydney, Heyman left the small town with a population of around 3,000 to represent her country all over the world and play club football in the USA as well as winning countless honours in the domestic club game in Australia.
Heyman played Rugby Union and touch football first before going to play the round ball at local side Warilla Wanderers and she told one of her sponsors in the past how she remembers well “playing in a boys competition and I was the only girl. When I first started playing, I was a little intimidated because I was the only girl in the league. I just remember being very competitive growing up, I always wanted to be a winner and beat the boys!”
After missing the competition last year, the 32-year-old has come back better than ever at her spiritual home of Canberra United this season – and the calls for a Matildas return gets louder with each passing week.
Speaking in 2009 about this part of her career, she said: “I have never been a strong football background. I have never been in the Young Matildas and what I have learnt was from growing up and playing with the boys. I never really had the high-level training and coaching.”
She moved on to represent Port Kembla and Shellharbour City before joining Illawarra Stingrays in NSW State Women’s Super League (now NPL). The Stingrays have been a club that Heyman has returned to several times between 2008 and 2018 between W-League seasons.
In 2008, at the age of 20, ahead of the first W-League season, Heyman was invited to a trial at Sydney FC where, out of 120 triallists, she was one of only ten to be signed. Playing opportunities in her debut season with the harbour city club were restricted to just three games due to the highly competitive squad that the Sky Blues had put together, so she moved to Central Coast Mariners, who at that period were running a W-League outfit.
Her single season in Gosford was hugely successful. Eleven goals in eleven games saw her become the first striker in the league’s infancy to score more than ten goals in a campaign. At the time, she told The Women’s Game: “I am glad that I swapped over and played for the Mariners. I wasn’t too sure if I would be starting this season because of what happened last season (lack of games with Sydney). Steve Roach (coach) gave me the opportunity to start so I didn’t want to let him down.”
With little senior experience at this time, Heyman pointed to how her team-mates at Central Coast Mariners helped to develop her as a player: “The experienced girls talked to me a lot more. Where I can do better. What I can do to make my runs a lot easier and not to waste my energy during the game. With the experience of the girls having played at higher levels, it has just helped me a lot and I have learnt so much this year at the Mariners.”
The successes of this season saw the Mariners finish as runners-up in the W-League before bowing out of the Finals series at the first hurdle to Brisbane Roar. On a personal level, Heyman win the Julie Dolan Medal as the W-League’s player of the year and the Golden Boot as top scorer.
However, Central Coast Mariners’ parent A-League (men’s) club withdrew funding for the women’s team at the end of the campaign and Heyman moved to Canberra United – a club she would be associated with over the next eleven years.
The 2011/12 season was, once more hugely successful for Heyman as Canberra finished top of the W-League at the end of the regular season, going unbeaten. She netted fifteen times to finish six goals clear at the top of the scorers charts. Of these fifteen goals, three came in the finals as Canberra United went on to win the Grand Final. She scored the only goal of the semi-final at home to Melbourne Victory with seven minutes to go. A brace came in the Grand Final at United’s McKellar Park home as Brisbane Roar were defeated 3-2 in front of a crowd of 2,512.
In this period, Heyman was called up for the Matildas for the first time and represented the team in the 2014 Asian Women’s Football Championships where she claimed a runners-up medal and then went on to play all five matches for Australia at the 2015 World Cup. A year later she made her country’s squad for the Olympic Games and scored twice in a 6-1 win over Zimbabwe in Brazil.
Heyman’s stellar form for Canberra United led to a five month contract with Brøndby IF in Denmark. Speaking at the time, she said: “I don’t know much about Denmark but I know it’s cold over there, like -5 degrees. I was told that it hasn’t started snowing yet, but it’s windy and I need to buy gloves and beanies and stuff … I just want to go over there and enjoy it.”
She returned to Canberra United for another six seasons where she clocked up a total of 93 appearance and fifty-six goals. A further W-League Grand Final success followed in 2014 when the side from the nation’s capital came from third place on the table to win both finals away from home. A win in the semis at Melbourne Victory on penalties set up a Grand Final in Western Australia against table toppers Perth Glory, who had won eleven of their thirteen games. In front of 2,671, Canberra United scored two goals in a three minute spell to claim a stunning 3-1 win.
Another spell abroad in the USA with Western New York Flash saw Heyman score once in nine games as the team finished seventh.
After eight hugely successful years in Canberra, she departed for South Australia and Adelaide United. Speaking at the time to the club’s website, Heyman said: “I believe that we can definitely make finals and with the experience that Adelaide have already with the likes of Emma Checker and now with myself adding more experience, I think we can definitely be a successful team.”
Unfortunately, despite those experienced heads in the squad, Adelaide narrowly failed to make a maiden finals appearance – missing out by just a point. A disappointing loss at home to a Newcastle Jets side five points in arrears of them in the penultimate week of the season eventually ended those hopes of making the final four. Heyman played in every game that season, but only managed one goal.
After taking a season out of the W-League last time round, Heyman played for the University of Sydney in the NSW NPLW (State League) under Alex Epakis, now head coach at Perth Glory. A series of great performances and goals prompted her to make a W-League return for 2020/21 with Canberra United.
She was unveiled back in the lime green in November 2020. “If you were to ask me a year ago if this was something that could happen, to be honest, this comeback was something I didn’t think was going to happen,” Heyman told the club website.
“I am so excited to get back to the roots of Canberra United. Canberra United has been a part of my life and helped shape my career.
“I’ve always loved this club and feel very grateful to get the opportunity to come back and play for the Green family,” she continued.
This season it has been a joy back to see Heyman playing at the club. Her positioning sense and deadly accuracy in front of goal have been rewarded by reclaiming her status as the league’s record goal scorer. All the fairy tale needs now is for her to go back on her 2019 announcement retiring from international football.
New Matildas head coach Tony Gustavsson recently told Impetus: “Too many Matildas stop playing international football too early. I want to extend these players’ careers. Players can still play really well at 35 or 40.” Michelle Heyman, at the age of 32 certainly would qualify as being worthy of extending her international career.