Kicking goals: Clare Wheeler on football and future

A scholarship helped support Clare Wheeler’s move to Sydney to pursue a degree while building her professional football career. Now, her desire to push herself beyond her comfort zone has taken her around the world.
Clare Wheeler on the field for the Matildas

Midfielder Clare Wheeler first represented Australia with the Young Matildas in 2015 before debuting with the senior team in 2021.

“You’re not going to grow unless you push yourself. So that’s what I’ve done. I want to do the most that I can, while I can,” said Clare Wheeler, a 25-year-old University of Sydney graduate and international football player.

Clare grew up in Newcastle and discovered football at 10 years-old when a friend started playing. Not long after she enrolled at Hunter Sports High – a culturally diverse school that provides students with development pathways to elite-level sport.

By 13 years-old she was selected for the state youth league, and by 15 years-old she was playing for the A-League national team, the Newcastle Jets. She has since gone on to play for the Matildas representing Australia, the Danish UEFA Women’s Champions League club, Fortuna Hjørring, and most recently, she signed with UK super league club, Everton.

As if that wasn’t enough, she also managed to complete a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Sydney.

Clare’s long-standing mantra has been ‘just give things a crack’ and she has consistently strived to push herself beyond her comfort zone.

Being naturally more drawn to sports, a university degree wasn’t always on the cards for Clare. At school she needed additional support with traditional subjects like English.

“It took me several years to really hit my stride with education. I wouldn’t say I was struggling, but I definitely wasn’t academically inclined,” she said.

But with the support of the school and encouragement from her parents, Clare went on to earn some of the best marks in her year.

Though she had found her footing both academically and athletically, when Clare was entering her final years of high school, her mum became seriously ill. She passed away just two years later.

“I had around 30 percent attendance in maths in my final year with everything going on, but the teachers were great. They understood what was going on,” Clare said.

Clare Wheeler in green and yellow Matildas uniform waiting to play

Clare balanced her undergraduate studies with the demands of a professional football career.

Her teachers also recommended she explore E12 Scholarship opportunities, which support students who have been at a significant educational disadvantage in gaining entry to the University of Sydney by considering their achievements beyond their ATAR. The scheme provides recipients with an early offer, a reduced entry score, and a scholarship to support them during their studies.

“Without the E12 program I wouldn’t have been able to get into the University of Sydney,” Clare said. “I got an ATAR of 90 and I think Commerce at Sydney required 95. The financial support was also critical for me to make the move from Newcastle to Sydney.”

Being able to buy the necessary supplies for her degree – like a secondhand laptop that she still has today – meant that Clare was able to begin her studies confident that she had everything she needed, without adding any financial pressure on her family.

“Just having the right equipment helps you feel like you fit in. Our family shared a computer and one laptop, so rather than take the laptop away from my brother who was in Year 11, I could buy my own,” Clare added.

Coming from regional NSW, the community aspect of the E12 program was also vital in making new connections and finding friends.

“The financial help made living in Sydney a possibility, but I was also part of the E12 Facebook group and other programs, which were so helpful,” Clare said.

With achievements like Clare’s, you could be forgiven for thinking she was readily self-assured, but she credits her successes with a belief in continuous growth and improvement.

“Going to Sydney Uni and being a small fish in a big pond was a little bit daunting, but then I knew from my past experiences that if I just gave things time and kept on with it, I would get it,” Clare said.

“I remember getting my first high distinction and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m at Sydney Uni and I was able to get this result, that’s incredible’.”

Clare Wheeler in a blue shirt during a training session

Clare has enjoyed the opportunity to grow as a player during her international career.

Clare is currently based in Manchester in the UK, where she plays for Everton as a permanent signing, but she first left Australia in 2021, when she got the opportunity to join Danish football club, Fortuna Hjørring. She knew that moving to Denmark would put her back into the ‘small fish, big pond’ scenario but took it as an opportunity to grow.

“There was definitely an adjustment period when I moved overseas, especially to Denmark where there’s a language difference, but challenging yourself is where you see the most growth. It can be uncomfortable, and constantly feeling like that can take its toll, but I know I’m not going to regret putting myself out there,” Clare said.

While Clare is passionate about football, she’s also aware that sporting careers don’t last forever, which is one of the reasons she chose to undertake a Commerce degree.

“I’ve had a job ever since I was 15. It’s important for me to be more than just one thing. Eventually, I will join the workforce after my career in football, so uni and getting some work experience was part of a longer-term plan so that I didn’t have to start at square one,” Clare said.

“After university, I worked at Macquarie Bank in financial assistance, and I could relate to the people I was helping because my family had gone through something similar. It was challenging, but very rewarding.”

The assistance Clare received with her studies has resonated throughout her life. When she’s not training, she also works with a number of charities, including Kit Aid in Australia, which redistributes old football kits to communities in need, and her local food bank in the United Kingdom.

“Just hearing what people are going through with the cost-of-living crisis, it strikes a chord with me, so if I can donate my time, then I will. It’s important to me to give back while I’m pursuing my career,” Clare said.

Clare’s biggest learning through her personal and professional life, and advice to others, is to trust yourself and just give things a go.

“Make sure that you remind yourself that you don’t always get instant gratification and things may take more time than others,” Clare said. “The most important thing is that you just keep putting your best foot forward and try to have fun while you do it.”

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