Emma Watkins embodies the phrase “one club player”.
Having successfully elevated herself through the junior ranks at the Tigers, Watkins has been an intimate part of the club’s setup for the last decade. In that time, Watkins has formed a familial connection with the club that has been instrumental in aiding her development into the mature and talented footballer she is today.
For Watkins, her time at the Tigers has allowed her to develop lifelong friendships through simply playing the game.
“I think it’s the social aspect of it, I’ve made so many friends through football. And [at the Tigers] there is really strong core group of us. There are 5 or 6 of us that have been together since the U12s, so a lot of my social life has stemmed from football.”
Emma Watkins & growing alongside Northern Tigers FC
Watkins is immensely proud of the progress the club has made from her arrival to now. The club’s intensive focus on developing quality youth has seen the Tigers’ senior teams reap the rewards of the coaching staff’s dedication to building for the future.
“Obviously bringing in the likes of Ellie Brush and Servet (Uzunlar), all the big guns, to just top off the squad has been instrumental”.
“There was a big focus on developing the juniors when I was coming through, to then eventually produce a good senior squad. It’s been like a ten-year evolution. Which is a credit to the coaches who have stuck around like Steve (Burns), Pat (O’Sullivan) and Jason (Eagar) who have been there from the start and seen it through”.
Promotion & being 2019’s surprise package in NPL 1
Winning a Grand Final and earning subsequent promotion to NPL 1 was a testament to not only the talent of Watkins and her teammates, but to the commitment of the coaching staff in working to evolve the Tigers in to being a serious competitor within the league.
“At the time it was a feeling of finally being able to do this [achieve promotion]. With all this build up from when we were young girls it was incredible. At the time we were playing up a level at quite a young age as we were still 16”.
“[After promotion] Our mentality was that we wanted to continue to strive and really kick butt in NPL 1; we wanted to prove to ourselves that we are capable of it”.
Last year saw the team make a surprise dash towards the NPL 1 Grand Final, a period of good momentum that Watkins credits to the talent and determination within the squad.
“I think it was the addition of the likes of Eliza Campbell and Servet who came late in to the season. We just managed to win these games that we shouldn’t have won. Realistically we had no hope of making the semis but those last games were crucial”.
“Jason really stepped up the idea of you’ve got to believe it if you want to achieve it, and I think that’s what lacked in those previous years. It was a massive mentality shift I found”.
“Beforehand, it was basically “let’s get through these ninety minutes or see how long we can hold teams out for”. It was eighty or ninety minutes of grueling defence. We underwent a complete shift in what our aims are. Now when we play, we are on the attack from the get go”.
Watkins delivered on the Grand Final stage, opening the scoring in the match with a looping screamer which sailed beyond Sydney University’s goalkeeper.
“It all went pretty quick to be honest, I just remember thinking after my first contact with the ball “this is not too bad” and then seeing it float over the keeper and go in”.
“I turned and ran to Josie (Wilson) and celebrated, it was such a surreal moment. Incredible. I still sometimes watch it back or people show it to me and I’m like “yeah, that was me”, it was great”.
Whilst the final result did not favour the Tigers, Watkins firmly believes there were no regrets about the effort that went in to excellent season.
“We lost in penalties, but I think the fight we put up meant no one was down afterwards”.
“Everyone was so stoked with how we played and how we put up such a good fight and proved that we weren’t some sort of pushover fluke team that somehow managed to get to the grand final”.
In terms of following up on a blockbuster 2019 season, for Watkins and the squad, it is a matter of retaining the same effort and matching the quality set by Sydney University’s impressive season.
“Basically, we all sat down and we asked ourselves what do we realistically want out of this. Everyone pretty much concluded that we wanted to be number one and so we went through a lot of the stats from Sydney Uni, who finished first. We told ourselves we’ve got to match that or beat that. That’s what you have got to do if you want to be first”
Women’s football futures & the benefits of being a part of the Tigers family
With women’s football in Australia growing immensely in participation and engagement, Watkins has been impressed by the investment in to women’s football in the country.
“In these recent years, even just within Tigers, there is so much more focus on the girls than there ever was. Even things like this, you would never hear about the women’s team, it was always the men’s team. I think because Football NSW as a whole have improved so much as well it has helped it grow. I think it’s a really important aspect to keep growing and good things lie ahead with it”.
As for where she wants women’s football in Australia to be at in the future, Watkins hopes to achieve a well-earned equal standing with the men.
“[I want] To be equal with men, ultimately, I don’t see why that shouldn’t be the case. I don’t see why other people should view it differently to that. That’s my opinion personally”.
Having tallied up the most appearances by a Tigers player since the team’s promotion in 2016, Watkins knows all too well about what it takes to make it to the top level and believes that Northern Tigers is the best place for local talent to shine.
“You’ve got to keep at it. From when you’re young, obviously everyone thinks maybe this isn’t for them and they may want to try something else, but I think if you’re looking long term you just have to keep going each season and improving. That’s all you can really do”.
“Make sure you’re doing it because you enjoying it, not because you’re forced to or anything like that. I think its easy on my behalf because I am in such a good friendly environment with all my friends”.
“At Tigers, you know all the girls from the different age groups. Youth and seniors are all combined and that supporting environment plays such a key role”.
For the Tigers family, it shows that the deep culture built in to the club has been critical in keeping players on board for so long. And as for Watkins’ message to kids striving to make it professionally in the Tigers setup, nothing but positives can come from time spent at the club.
“You’ve got such good things ahead of you and it is one hundred percent down to the people. Not once have I ever been bored, it’s just like a family. You hear of other clubs which have such big controversy and here I haven’t experienced that and don’t ever want to”.
Written by Matthew Badrov.