Coalstars women's trip to Sydney, 1976.
Coalstars women's trip to Sydney, 1976. Contributed

Coalstars women made path for success

FOND MEMORIES: Michelle Sawyers and Gail Williams look through Coalstars memorabilia ahead of the club’s 50th anniversary.
FOND MEMORIES: Michelle Sawyers and Gail Williams look through Coalstars memorabilia ahead of the club’s 50th anniversary. Rob Williams

WHILE the former Coalstars Soccer Club is known for having produced dozens of top-performing men through the years, it has also been the breeding ground for great women players.

When Michelle Sawyers first laced up the boots as a 13-year-old in 1973, the women's side of the game was still in its infancy in south-east Queensland.

From one Ipswich team and perhaps three or four Brisbane teams in the early 70s, the game quickly grew after Michelle and her older sister Gail Williams (nee Barclay) became part of the early Coalstars women's teams.

A lot of the Barclay girls' drive came from their father, the late Keith Barclay, who devoted much of his life to the club and to developing women's soccer - eventually becoming a Coalstars Life Member.

"Dad was coaching a few teams at Coalstars and the women's team needed players," Gail said.

"Women were already playing when we started, but there were only a few teams around. We started asking our friends to come and play."

Transport was a big challenge.

Michelle said her father would often pack the entire team into his Holden station wagon.

"Dad would get four or five in the boot with all the gear, four or five in the back seat, and a couple more up the front," she said.

Michelle became one of the country's best players, representing Australia in internationals in 1983 and 1989, when she was named player of the tournament.

She was also part of the first women's World Cup squad in 1991, and was bitterly disappointed when the team failed to qualify for the finals.

There was some redemption when she joined the 1995 squad, as manager, for its first World Cup finals in Sweden.

In all, Michelle remained at Coalstars from 1973-1992, while Gail was there until 1981.

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Coalstars life member Ross Hallett said Mrs Sawyer set the standard for the younger players who followed, such as Belinda Kitching, Kaylene Janssen and Bryony Duus.

It is thought that the club had a women's side from as early as 1968.

"Coalstars produced many state and Australian players over a number of decades and continues to produce strong women's teams, with the Ipswich Knights ladies currently on top of the Women's Premier League," Mr Hallett said.

The sisters are looking forward to catching up with old teammates at the former club's 50th anniversary reunion at the Ipswich Knights Clubhouse, from 3pm on August 30.

Organisers of the event are announcing a Select Coalstars Women's Team - in addition to a men's team - on the night.

An old photo of Michelle Sawyers and Gail Williams ahead of the club's 35th anniversary.
An old photo of Michelle Sawyers and Gail Williams ahead of the club's 35th anniversary.


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