It’s rather ironic that Belinda Bowey thought she was done and dusted as a footballer at the ripe old age of 14.
Ironic, because the former St Kilda City junior will run out for her 350th game of women’s football on Sunday when her beloved St Kilda Sharks take on Cranbourne in SEWF Division Two at Peanut Farm.
The now 43-year-old fell in love with the sport at a young age, playing kick-to-kick in the backyard with her twin-brother Matthew and older sibling Brett – who played 85 games for St Kilda in the VFL/AFL between 1988 to ’94.
Her parents, Trevor and Claire, had moved the family from Victor Harbour to Adelaide, and then to Melbourne, with the kids going to school in St Kilda.
It’s there that the love affair began – a love cut short after her final season in the under 14s.
Applying the rules of the day, Bowey was told she was no longer allowed to play with the boys in the under 16s – and there was nowhere else for girls to play footy.
Despite not playing she remained involved at St Kilda, boundary umpiring and doing odd jobs to help out.
She loved being involved at the club, but a phone call in late 1991 to then 17-year-old would propel her to the lofty heights of the 350-game club this weekend.
“I remember the call like it was yesterday, the club was starting a team in the new women’s league and I was asked if I wanted to play…and I jumped at the opportunity,” she said.
“I understood the reasons for not being allowed to play against the boys, they were getting bigger and stronger at that age, But I was still very disappointed not to be playing.
“But that phone call, well it changed everything.”
Bowey has been playing football ever since – for 26 years to be exact.
“I honestly can’t believe it, it’s just been an amazing journey over a 26-year period of my life, a lot more than half of my life running laps, going to training and being involved in the wonderful culture of a footy club,” she said.
“I suppose kicking the ball in the backyard with my brothers all those years ago just ingrained footy into me and I haven’t known it any other way. As long as I’m still contributing and helping the team in some way and I’m happy to keep on going.
“I thought this year would be it, but the 350 is here now and every week feels like a highlight.”
As you would expect Belinda has a long list of achievements to her name, playing State footy for Victoria and playing in three premierships, going back-to-back as a player in 1998-’99 before winning as a player-coach at the club in 2004.
She rates that season as her most memorable time in the game.
“That was an amazing year because not only did we win the premiership but we got to play on the MCG as well,” she said.
“It was such an amazing experience. I remember the siren going to start the game and the feeling just went all the way through my body. A few of us were a bit distracted at the centre bounce and forgot we had to focus on the ball.
“That was an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life.”
Bowey said football had kept her active, in both a mental and physical sense.
“It’s such a great release to just go out and play footy…that’s one of the things I love most about it,” she said.
”I remember one of my teammates saying she wasn’t going to play because she wasn’t in a good head space and told her ‘these are times when you have to play’. It’s just great to get away from the pressures of work and just go out and get a kick and lay tackles.”
She said she has refined her style as the years have gone on.
“I’m a lot smarter now, just playing the sweeper role and reading the play and trying to put my experience to good use,” she said.
“I started out on the wing and then moved to a runner off half-back but now I just read the play and work out where the next option is.”
Bowey is still going strong, playing for the St Kilda Sharks and in the Over-30’s Masters League.
She is also involved as an assistant coach with the Sandringham Dragons TAC Cup Under-18s Girls, where she is helping to develop some of the future stars of the women’s game.
“It’s incredible to watch the talent coming through, and all I can say is that the future of the game is in very good hands,” she said.
“These girls are super-talented and have the opportunities now that we could only have dreamed of as a kid. The future of women’s football is very exciting.”
So does she have the motivation to kick on to the 400-game milestone?
“It’s definitely on my mind now. It’s a bit harder to get motivated to get to training at my age but once I’m there I remember everything I love about the game and it always becomes enjoyable.
“I just love the sport.”