400 games and still going: Women's footy trailblazer notches up incredible milestone

YOU'D be hard pressed to find someone who loves footy more than Belinda Bowey.

The Victorian football pioneer and Port Melbourne Colts Masters’ player-coach is set to play game 400 this weekend when her side runs out on Saturday 9 July at 2pm at JL Murphy Reserve.

It's believed she is the first woman to do so.

Bowey’s football journey started at a young age, and her passion was fuelled by the mutual interest she shared with twin brother, Matt, and older brother, Brett — who would go on to play 85 games for St Kilda in the VFL/AFL between 1988 and 1994.

Belinda Bowey (right) and nephew Jake Bowey having a snack after a match. Picture: Supplied

Beginning her football career as a fill-in for the St Kilda Sharks Juniors when the side was short on numbers, Bowey instantly became hooked by the excitement of Australian Rules Football.

However, at 14, Bowey was told she was unable to play with the boys anymore, so she took up boundary umpiring, and despite her disappointment in not being able to play, her love for the game never died.

And then, in 1992, when she was 17 years old, she received a phone call to ask if she would be interested in playing in the newly formed Victorian Women’s Football League.

Bowey couldn’t get down there fast enough.

Belinda Bowey was a foundation player for the St Kilda Sharks in the Victorian Women's Football League. Picture: Supplied

30 years later, Bowey is just as passionate about the game and shows no signs of slowing down.

When she crossed the 350-game mark in 2018, she considered the prospect of retirement.

However, when the Melbourne Masters’ side came calling for a fill-in, Bowey was again happy to oblige, and as she prepares to cross the 400-game milestone, the now Port Melbourne Colts’ veteran believes she still has plenty of football left in her.

“I filled in as the Melbourne Masters were short and knew that l could keep playing for another five to ten years easily," she said.

“Masters has games every fortnight with training just once a week, so it’s much nicer on the body.”

Belinda Bowey in action coaching the Port Melbourne Colts' masters. Picture: Supplied

In a career littered with highlights and achievements, Bowey points to a game in 2004 as the standout moment, when she and her St Kilda side were lucky enough to play on the MCG.

“The siren blew when we were out having shots at goal, and the feeling went all through your body—it was an absolutely amazing experience," she said.

Bowey has always been willing to learn and grow as a footballer, and she is now using her knowledge and experience to educate the next generation of women’s footballers after turning her hand to coaching.

“The great thing about football is you can always learn something new, no matter how long you’ve been coaching or playing, [you can] always look to learn and develop more.”

“I love seeing the improvement of players [after] all the hard work they put in.”

Belinda Bowey in action for the St Kilda Sharks. Picture: AFL Photos

As the AFL celebrates Women’ Coaching Month throughout the month of July, Bowey says she is excited by the growth in women’s participation and the opportunities available to female footballers and coaches.

“There are lots of new programs and encouragement for women in football and coaching and it’s great that we have some more female AFLW coaches.”

“When l first started playing, there was only eight teams in Victoria, and no one knew about women’s football. It took many years to get the acknowledgment it deserved.”

“It makes me super proud of how many women are now playing football and enjoying the game l love so much.”

Belinda Bowey (centre) and teammates. Picture: AFL Photos

Over the course of her 30-year career, Bowey has seen the game evolve and has competed against the very best and is confident about the direction in which the game is heading.

“The game is so much more professional now and the talent is getting more and more exciting.”

“I remember playing against Daisy Pearce when she was younger and admiring her skill and class even back then.”

“The game is only getting better, and I can’t wait to see how women’s football progresses moving forward.”

Her advice to young women interested in playing or coaching football is simple yet inspired.

“Listen to your coaches, play fair football, have fun while playing and be amazing.”