The NZ World Cup hero who inspired a pioneer

It’s the “crazy” kid she once was – without a visual representation of herself to look up to in football – who is helping the Lily Alfeld of today appreciate the importance of her role captaining Wellington Phoenix through the club’s maiden Liberty A-League campaign.

Alfeld and her ‘Nix teammates have become role models for young female footballers in New Zealand since signing on for the club; the kind of role models she sorely lacked as a child. 

Now, Alfeld is embarking into new territory as Wellington’s first player to be called up for the Football Ferns, as she prepares to join the 23-player New Zealand squad for the SheBelieves cup this month.

It’s seeing women excel in football which Alfeld believes can foster belief in the community of Kiwi girls who no longer have to squint at the images of Wellington’s male stars and ponder whether it would be possible to one day fill their boots.

“It was a huge honour to be that player,” Alfeld told KEEPUP in pre-season, on becoming the very first female player signed to the Phoenix ahead of the 2021/22 Liberty A-League season. “It’s such a big deal for football in New Zealand, so to be part of it is really special and something I’m really grateful for. 

“We have never had that team to look up to or aspire to within our country. It makes professional football feel a lot more accessible, something that’s not just a dream, it’s something we can actually see on our doorstep.

“It bridges the gap between the dream of playing professionally overseas, it makes it more of a reality, really. 

“When we grew up, we looked up to the Wellington Phoenix Men’s players. Within New Zealand it was definitely seeing the men’s players play (that inspired me).

“Mark Paston, the All Whites ‘keeper, was always my idol back then, helping them qualify for the 2010 World Cup. 

“I think just to know there’ll be a female version of that now is very exciting… and to be one of those girls is special.

“I guess with that comes a responsibility, now, to make sure we put our best foot forward and give girls in the country something to aspire to.”

Former Wellington ‘keeper Mark Paston was an idol of Alfeld’s as she grew into her gloves.

Alfeld’s path to becoming a custodian was not always set in stone. In fact, as many goalkeepers often attest, it was the outfield which initially piqued the interest of a young footballer with a wild streak.

“I played from about four years old,” Alfeld said. 

“I was a bit crazy I think when I was younger. I quite liked the idea of running out and blocking shots, taking the ball off people’s feet. That was my thought: ‘Oh my god, I get to do this all the time, this is fun!’ That was probably the moment it all changed.

“It was probably around the age of 12 when I started to specialise as a ‘keeper but as a young kid I always wanted to be an outfield player. I started to recognise it was something I really enjoyed, and was quite good at. That’s when I honed in on football, and made it my focus.

“We had the U17 Women’s World Cup come to New Zealand in 2008, and that was a huge shift to see girls train and play in a professional environment. 

I was lucky enough to be invited down to some training sessions and games. I think that sparked the fire within.

I thought, ‘This is what I want to do, and this is something I could do all the time, every day’. That was my big moment.”

Alfeld poses in ‘Nix colours before the start of the 2021/22 Liberty A-League season.

After 10 appearance as ‘Nix captain in 2021/22, Alfeld now has the chance to represent her nation at the SheBelieves Cup.

Called up for the Football Ferns for the first time since their tour of China in 2019, Alfeld will hope to make her senior international debut and continue her upward career trajectory.