Jane Oakley: Star of the Matildas and super coach

Jane Oakley inducted into Football Federation Victoria Hall of Fame.

Roy Hay

Jane Oakley was inducted into the Football Federation Victoria Hall of Fame earlier this month. It was further recognition of one of the most accomplished players and coaches in the game as she had already become a member of the national Hall of Fame in 2004 and received the Australian Sports Medal in 2000.

Though her Dad played a bit of football in England, the young Jane Oakley had little or no football experience until a neighbour in Dandenong announced that she was going down to the football club and invited Jane to come along. She was immediately hooked and within a few years had caught up and surpassed her contemporaries. 

She remembers one of her coaches saying to her, ?Just play up front and do what you want to do?, indicating that she was the sort of free spirit who could win games for the team given that role. 

?At that time I didn?t know anything about defending, but I had to learn later,? Jane admitted. 

Letting people do their own thing in a team game is not a strategy that she tended to adopt in her later coaching career. Yet there always was something of the old free spirit in all she did as a coach.

From Dandenong North in 1980 Jane Oakley graduated to the Victorian team in 1983 and the following year received the first of her 35 caps for Australia. Already she was looking beyond her playing career and qualified as a coach in 1985. Five years later she was development officer for the Victorian Soccer Federation while still playing for the Matildas. 

In 1995 Jane Oakley was part of the Australian team which qualified for the World Cup in Sweden. She played in all three games against Denmark, China and the United States. Though all three matches were lost, this was a key formative influence for the Matildas and Tom Sermanni built on that in his spells as coach of the national team.

In 1994 Jane Oakley was already a senior coach at the VSF and with the women?s association. She became assistant coach of the national Under-19s and then coach of the Under-16s. She was the assistant coach with the Matildas when they competed in the Australia Cup in 2000 and she became head coach of the Women?s National Training Centre in Victoria. This was a program for young women run in association with the Victorian Institute of Sport and Jane worked closely with Ernie Merrick who was in charge of VIS football. Their common interest in the incorporation of the latest sports science, biomechanics and coaching theory fed into both programs and the elite young women progressed rapidly as a result. 

Oakley?s plans for her young squad were very ambitious. 

?I firmly believe that we should not just benchmark on the Matildas, but we should do so against the best in the world, the women in the United States, China and Norway?. 

Among those who benefited from her coaching were Melissa Barbieri, Sarah Groenewald, Selin Kurulay and Louisa Bisby. The NTC squad honed its skills against boys from the Victorian Super League clubs.

Jane became an outstanding role model and the face of women?s football in the 1980s and 1990s.  Her photograph, together with Paul Wade, was on posters in every club throughout the State and she donated much of her time to promoting the development of the Women?s game. 

Her enthusiasm was such that when the Victorian Under-17s were short of a player for a practice match against a Bendigo side in January 2002 she pulled the boots on and took part in scorching heat in a curtain raiser for a Matildas match against South Korea. That experience paid off for the Bendigo girls as well for they won the Under-17 Victorian championship at Bentleigh Greens a couple of months later, while the Open Age Bendigo squad came third behind the two Metropolitan sides.

It was always clear that Jane Oakley would forge a wide ranging career outside the game and in recent times she has been an area general manager for Telstra, a director of Latrobe Regional Hospital and a Regional Director at the Department Planning and Community Development. She has a diploma from Swinburne University and continues to facilitate better access to health and communication technologies for residents of remote and regional areas.

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