Despite her diminutive stature, Mickey Robertson can hold her ground against anyone on the football pitch. And after personal tragedy, the Wellington Phoenix forward had to rediscover her love for the game.
Michaela Robertson’s love of football started as a young girl on the sideline of her dad Tim’s games, and has taken her to great heights, including the Tokyo Olympic Games with the Football Ferns.
But when her dad passed away in 2018, she found her passion for the game disappearing.
“When I lost him, I felt like I’d lost my reason for playing, too,” Robertson says.
Affectionately known as Mickey, the Wellington Phoenix forward shared a love of football with her dad and her younger sister, Jemma. Tim checked in on his daughter’s game via text minutes before his unexpected passing.
“Having to adjust to not having my dad around, coaching me from the sideline, being at all my games and just being my number one supporter, I’ve had to find my own reason for playing and what my passion is,” the 26-year-old Robertson says.
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Making her A-League Women’s debut for the Phoenix in Wellington, her home town, this season was a special moment, carrying her dad’s name with her on the pitch.
“[I’m] no longer playing for him, but playing for myself and for the love of my game,” Robertson says.
Robertson made history as the first female player to join the Wellington Phoenix Academy fulltime in 2020.
“It was kind of unknown territory, like I stepped into that having to pave a new pathway,” the speedy forward explains.
“The boys also weren’t familiar with having a girl running around alongside them, so I had to show them what I was capable of and that I could compete at that level.”
Standing at under five feet tall (147cm) Robertson laughs that the boys almost didn’t know how to tackle a player so small. But their competitive natures – and not wanting to be “beaten by a girl” – meant it didn’t take them long to figure it out.
“It was challenging, they tested me in lots of ways,” she says. “It was a much faster ball game than I had played, keeping up with their tempo, and the physical component they brought to the game.
“It took a while for them to become comfortable with me being in their environment but also for me to prove I was good enough to be there.”
Robertson split her time between Auckland and Wellington once she was in contention for the U20 World Cup and after making the Future Ferns domestic programme. But Wellington was always home for her, especially after her dad’s passing.
She balances football with working for the Ministry of Education as the lead advisor for the construction observation team – a team of 21 who look after all the construction projects happening on schools around New Zealand.
Mickey Robertson gets a little extra height for her Sky Sport interview. Photo: Phillip Rollo.
From the moment she heard whispers about the Phoenix entering a team in the Women’s A-League in 2021, Robertson knew she wanted to be part of it.
“The first season, it didn’t quite line up for me. I’d just come back from the Olympics and was really needing a break and to reassess where I was at,” she says, knowing the team would be based in Australia all season because of New Zealand’s Covid restrictions.
But discussions with Phoenix head coach Nat Lawrence continued, and when she was officially offered a contract for the team’s second season, her family were the first people she told.
Robertson was familiar with most of the players in the Phoenix squad, having grown up playing with many of them, including fellow Wellingtonian Emma Rolston.
“Although it was a new group of players who’d just come together, aspects of it felt like it was a team that wasn’t so new,” Robertson explains.
“I think we still needed to learn how each other played, like we hadn’t all played together as a team, so it took a while for connections to be made. But in terms of just being comfortable around each other and a team culture and family feeling, it was created almost instantly which was cool.”
Football Ferns centurion Betsy Hassett is someone Robertson looks up to in the team, and a good friend.
The duo planned a goal celebration if either scored in their game against Canberra United, and with Robertson on the bench when Hassett scored, the celebration was forgotten.
Luckily, Hassett scored a second in their 5-0 win, and jumped on Robertson’s back, utter joy on both their faces.
Robertson scored her first goal for the Phoenix in a 1-1 draw against the Western Sydney Wanderers at home at Sky Stadium on January 2 – a moment she describes as “unreal”.
“To score my first pro goal and it to be in our home stadium, in front of family and friends, it was a pretty special feeling. And one I want to replicate many times over, it was surreal,” she says.
Robertson has had multiple Football Ferns call-ups, but is yet to earn her first cap.
“My focus has been on having a good first A-League season and enjoying it and doing that would hopefully open opportunities and doors for the future,” she says.
“I’m not playing football and sacrificing things for no reason, I’m playing because I want to grow and better myself and also push myself to make the national team and get back into that environment.”
With a home World Cup fast approaching, the chance of a Ferns recall is in the back of her mind.
“I’m doing everything I can to put my best foot forward for that and showcase what I can do on the field,” she says.
“There’s still time left, I hope I am given an opportunity. But at the same time, I’m also just focusing on myself and bettering my game for the benefit of this team.”
The Phoenix currently sit on the bottom of the table, but after beating the top-of-the-table Sydney FC, 1-0, last week, they have the chance to move their way up and avoid the wooden spoon.
With two wins and three draws, they continue to grow from their inaugural season last year, and Robertson has seen a lot of personal growth through her time with the team.
“I was really unsure when signing this contract if I was good enough to be here and compete at this level,” she remembers.
“I’d almost been fearful of the opportunity that I would crumble under the pressure or I wouldn’t be good enough for it.
“So for me, just stepping into this environment and being able to keep up, and also dominate in some areas and just grow and keep pushing – it’s been huge for my self-confidence and just knowing I am at this level and I can compete.”
*The Wellington Phoenix take on Perth Glory at Wellington’s Sky Stadium on Saturday. Catch the game live on Sky Sport Select from 5pm.