Collette Gardiner (nee McCallum) was only 29 when she brought the final curtain down on a glittering career. Six years on from announcing her retirement, the silky-skilled left-footer is still rated one of Australia’s best midfield players.
Collette was a key figure in the Matildas emergence as a power in the women’s game. Between 2005 and 2015 she represented Australia on 81 occasions, appearing at two Women’s World Cup and three Women’s Asian Cup tournaments.
Fittingly Collette’s final outing was for Australia against the country of her birth Scotland, on 10th April 2015. “I feel the fact that my last game was against Scotland, it was meant to be,” Collette told matildas.com.au when reflecting on her career last year.
“I was having trouble with my knees (and) I was in and out of camps for a year to try and sort them out. I was hoping to push myself for another World Cup but unfortunately my knees weren’t holding up anymore and was losing the pace of the game.”
Collette made her initial mark at youth level, playing 19 times for the Young Matildas. She was a member of Australia’s 2004 and 2006 Under-20 Women’s World Cup squads and was named in the FIFA All-Star Team following the 2006 tournament.
Such is her legacy at that level that in 2019 Professional Footballers Australia named their Young Player of the Year award the Collette McCallum Medal. “It’s pretty surreal,” she commented. “It’s a nice feeling to be acknowledged on your achievements in youth level.”
Collette made her full international debut in 2005 and quickly became the key to Australia’s midfield with her passing range and vision amongst the best in the world. She played a prominent role in the Matildas progression to the last eight at the 2007 Women’s World Cup where her stunning free-kick against Canada was amongst the tournament highlights.
Collette’s performances at that event lead to her being named as one of three players shortlisted for the 2007 Asian Women’s Player of the Year award. Three years later she was part of Australia’s historic Women’s Asian Cup winning squad and in 2011 was an integral part of the Women’s World Cup squad which again made the quarter finals.
But despite the many on-field successes it is the friendships Collette made that she recalls with greatest fondness. “It was such an amazing feeling to be able to play for the Matildas through the years and I will always cherish those memories with such a great group of girls,” she said.
“It really was an honour and I’ll never let myself forget just how fortunate I was to get the chance to learn and grow under some experienced players and coaches. There are too many memories of when we either were at a camp in Australia or travelling overseas for friendlies or tournaments.”
“Memories of occasionally getting time to explore cities, having fun celebrating, to entertaining ourselves in hotels or camps. I do have a laugh every now and then when a moment from my playing days pops back into my head.”
At club level Collette played in Australia’s national league for New South Wales Sapphires, Adelaide Sensation and Perth Glory, captaining the latter for three seasons and lifting the W-League Premiers trophy in 2014.
Collette also won league championships with Pali Blues (2008) and Sky Blue FC (2009) in the United States. In 2012 she enjoyed a brief spell at English club Lincoln Ladies, making eight league appearances for the club who were affiliated with Lincoln City.