When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down leagues and closed international borders earlier this year, the plans of multiple Westfield Matildas players were thrown into chaos.
But for budding mum Tameka Yallop, the timing of the pandemic was fortuitous. It meant that, instead of travelling to Norway to join her club side Klepp for the upcoming Toppserien season, she stayed home with newly-pregnant wife Kirsty and their growing baby, Harley.
“I was pretty lucky because I was actually only meant to spend three days here in New Zealand before I was meant to head to Norway,” Yallop said.
“And the day I was meant to get on my flight, Norway closed its borders. Then a week later, New Zealand closed their borders as well. So I was pretty lucky to get stuck here with Kirsty and I think it was a blessing in itself because I got to see Kirsty grow through the nine months.
“Six weeks would have been okay – for us to know I was going to be away for six weeks or eight weeks, whatever it was going to end up to be – but the uncertainty [of borders] kind of meant I might not return until early next year, which was too much for us. I don’t think I could go that long without seeing them. That was the decider for us.”
Being locked down in New Zealand for the past seven months has come with other challenges for Yallop outside of helping care for a newborn, especially when it comes to maintaining her fitness for club and national team duty.
“When we were in the first lockdown, it was for four weeks, and we were pretty lucky that we rushed to the shops and literally got everything we needed for a home gym,” she recalled.
“So I was kind of sorted for that, and I lasted four weeks okay training by myself. And then I’ve been lucky to be training with the men’s team here, but even still, training a whole week and not having that game at the end of the week really sucks.
“That’s definitely one thing I’ve missed. I know that if someone has had to train individually for this whole period of time, that would drive me absolutely crazy."
However, being isolated with her wife in New Zealand has also meant that Yallop has been present for some of the most important moments that an expectant parent can have.
One of the best things was when Harley, when she was in the womb, first started kicking and you could really feel there was a baby in there,” Yallop said.
“I think that’s something that I’ll cherish forever and something that I’m really glad I didn’t miss out on. And then the fact that Harley came two weeks early, too, you can’t really predict that, so I think it was definitely lucky that I was here and was with Kirsty through all that process as well.
"Kirsty ended up having a C-Section and they had said to me, ‘you can look over and tell Kirsty what you guys have.’ I stood up and looked over and just didn’t say anything.
So the nurses were like, ‘Kirsty, you’ve got a girl!’ And I was like, ‘oh yeah! She’s a girl!’ So it was a big surprise for me and for Kirsty. I think we would’ve been happy with either, but we’re pretty happy to have a little girl."
As the two new mums have settled in with Harley over the past few months, Yallop’s attention has now turned to her work with Seven Consulting and training with her local men’s side, Auckland United, to build up fitness for when borders re-open.
“I’m definitely looking to get back to Australia as soon as the Trans-Tasman bubble opens up and we can get back over there,” she said.
“Also waiting for the W-League to be scheduled and announced, so I’ll probably look to play W-League and head over either to Norway or another opportunity early next year. That timing fits in perfectly with Harley being big enough to travel so I don’t have to go by myself and the girls can come with me.”
Yallop is now adjusting to life as a working mum; something that not many Westfield Matildas have experienced before.
“I guess it’s quite common in the men’s game, because they obviously don’t have to carry [the child],” she said.
“And I didn’t carry either, but it’s still a weird concept for women’s football or the Matildas environment because no one’s at that stage where themselves or their partner has had a baby and they’ve kept playing. It is a little bit different.
“And I guess there’s no path that we can follow or a process that’s already in place. We kind of don’t have that. So it’s going to be a little bit of trial and error and see where we give and take, and working with all the staff at the Matildas and whatever club I’m at as well. It’s going to be a new situation for myself and our little family.”
As for whether Harley will follow in the footsteps of her two mums in playing football? Yallop doesn’t mind.
“I just remember growing up myself, not having any pressure to pick a sport. I played everything under the sun, in the water; you name it, I played it. We’re both open to whatever sport they want to play, if they even like sport – fingers crossed they like sport!
“But there’s definitely no pressure to play football. And in terms of Australia and NZ, maybe we’ll see which sport they pick… but if it’s football, I’m pretty sure we’ll be fighting to put the jersey on them!”