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AFLW Feature: How a quirky nickname and family tragedy shapes Surman’s story

She’s only been playing football competitively for two years, and now Kate Surman’s an AFLW-listed footballer.

The diminutive midfielder signed with the SUNS in July and on Saturday night was named Player of the Winter Series at the SUNS Club Champion awards night after a standout Winter season in the red and gold.

It’s been a rapid transformation for the 28-year-old.

Originally from Ballarat, Surman got her first taste for football in the schoolyard, but basketball was her sport of choice as a junior.

She progressed through Ballarat’s representative system then started getting involved in state teams before she gave the sport away as she started university.

She finished a degree in exercise and sports science at the University of Ballarat, then moved to Queensland to complete her Masters of Physiotherapy at the University of Queensland.

That was when she rekindled her love of football.

Spud:

Surman has always gone by the nickname Spud.

On the surface it seems like a harsh nickname for a professional footballer to harbour, but the origins of the name go way back to when Surman was an infant.

“When I was little as a baby I used to sit and just stare at the TV,” Surman said.

“I was a big fan of the TV so I used to sit there and stare at it.

“So my Dad nicknamed me Spud as I was a couch potato.

“He coached me through sport and it just stuck; everyone started calling me Spud.”

Surman thought she had left the nickname behind when she moved from Victoria.

She wanted to get involved in the blossoming sport of women’s football at the time so went down to her local club on the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore, to give it a go.

But a surprise visit from home brought the nickname roaring back.

“I didn’t bring the nickname to the Sunshine Coast until I started playing for Maroochydore,” Surman said.

“A girl I went to school with came to training and called me Spud then that was it.

“It’s not a nickname I’m ashamed of, I’m Spud.”

MS:

Surman grew up in Ballarat and lived there until her early 20’s.

She liked it there, but there was another reason she stayed so long.

Her mum had multiple sclerosis.

As an early teenager, Surman became her mother’s full-time carer and had to juggle her sporting, work and school commitments with life at home.

“She was diagnosed with MS when she was about 21, and started to deteriorate when my parents split up,” Surman said of her mother’s condition.

“From about 16 onwards that’s when I really started to become her carer before I moved to Queensland when I was 21.

“I guess from the outside it looked like a lot of responsibility and pressure but I didn’t know any different.

“I had really good family friends so I was really lucky to have them around.”

Surman says those formative years have moulded her into the person she is today.

“That’s probably why I am who I am now, quite energetic, positive and really thankful for a lot of things because my mum was like that,” Surman said.

“She was always so strong minded and positive; despite the cards she was dealt.

“Her mind was fine but her body just gave out on her.

“I lost her when I was 21.”

Those final few years with her mum gave Surman perspective.

She’s a very grounded person and is grateful for the time she was given.

“I’ve got a great sister and awesome friends, they are my family,” she said.

“If my parents weren’t together and my mum wasn’t sick, I’m not sure if I would be the person I am today.

“I chose to hang out with my mum over partying when I was younger, not because I had to but because I wanted to.

“We had things that we’d do together and she became more my friend than my mum.” 

The move:

When she was 21, Surman packed up and moved to Queensland.

After completing her first degree, she then went on to do her Masters in Physiotherapy and now lives and works in Coolum.

She’s into her second full year of football with Maroochydore and can’t get enough of it.

“I liked basketball but football was different,” Surman said.

“I just had it.

“I loved it as a kid but there was no future in the sport then.

“It’s completely different now.”

Surman has always been small in stature.

While that was sometimes a disadvantage in basketball, she says it’s only helped her development in football.

“I’ve always been a little midget,” she joked.

“In school pictures I was always sitting at the front cross-legged – I never got to stand up.

“It’s actually a good thing being small in women’s AFL as the ball is on the ground a lot more and I am close to it.

“I’m not super-fast, I would say I am more agile –quick off the mark.”

While she didn’t think she was turning heads with her football, in her first full year at Maroochydore, Surman received a call out of the blue.

She was asked to join the SUNS’ 2018 Winter Series squad as injury cover for the final game of the series.

While she didn’t play, that was the first time she was exposed to a higher level of football, training with the squad and being involved on gameday.

Later that year she was invited to be a part of the SUNS’ Summer Academy.

Summer Academy: 

“I got invited to the Summer Academy and I was kind of umming and ahhing whether I should do it but Fiona McLarty (SUNS Head of Women’s Football) called me and said they really wanted me to,” Surman said.

“It’s a lot of travel from Sunshine Coast to Gold Coast but I only had to go one day a week so I said ok.

“I was assuming there’d be 50 people there but there wasn’t – there was only 20.

“At that point I still thought I was just there as a number, that they weren’t expecting anything from me.”

But Surman impressed even herself with how much she developed over that 14-week period.

By her own standards she says that she didn’t think she was good enough, but her work ethic allowed her to get better each week.

By the end of the program she allowed herself to consider the prospect of becoming an AFLW footballer.

“As a summer squad we gelled really, really well and a couple of the girls have now been signed from it,” Surman said.

“As the Summer Academy went along, I started doing better and better and learnt so much.

“I hadn’t really played or trained football at a higher level so I started to learn and understand football differently, rather than just playing.

“I learnt how to kick properly because I hadn’t done any of that before.

“I haven’t realistically played that many games of football, maybe 30+ games in 18 months of football really when you think about it.

“I started to realise that maybe there was a chance.”

 

Development:

After being named in the QW Winter Series squad for 2019, Surman went on to play every game, including the Queensland representative match against Western Australia in Perth.

Her time in the Summer Academy paid off, with the inside midfielder impressing with her hunger to compete and win the football on the field.

“I’ve definitely got stuff that I still need to work on to see whether I can compete,” Surman said.

“Now I start to realise that I am at the level that I can compete.

“I still wasn’t super confident until that first Winter Series game when I was like: ‘oh actually, I’m not that bad’.

“The best thing for me is I think I can get better.

“I don’t think anyone expected I’d be where I am now.”

Surman’s strength is her work inside the contest to feed the ball out to teammates.

She has no hesitation to put her head over the football and win it, then has the ability to burst from a pack if given enough room.

But there’s still more she wants to work on, and even Surman herself doesn’t know just how high her ceiling can be.

“I’m super picky so there’s still stuff I need to work on,” she said.

“I’m pretty keen to do a pre-season and get fit.

“I need to build my endurance and want to improve my speed out of the pack.

“I’m very aware on what I want and need to work on and am always evaluating how I’m going.

“I’m sure with a pre-season under my belt I’ll learn a lot, but I also have to stay true to the way I play, as I tend be an over thinker.” 

Gold Coast:

After signing her contract with the SUNS, Surman now has plans to relocate to the Gold Coast.

She’s a keen surfer and can’t wait to test out the Coast’s waves with some of her new teammates.

She has just one goal in mind as she Gets Set for 2020.

“Get a game,” she said.

“That’s the next thing.

“My goal is just to get a game and go from there.

“I’m not playing to be the best player in the team, I just want to be able to compete.”

She plans to continue to work as a physio part-time while focussing on her football.

And she has plenty to give.

As she puts it, she may be 27 years old but she’s not a “27-year-old footballer”.

She’ll move with her partner Brett, who she says has been a key pillar in her life since her early 20’s

“We’ve been together four and a half years,” she said.

“He’s really super supportive with it all.

“He’s Kiwi though so he doesn’t get it, he just loves laughing at all the off-ball bumps and niggles.

“I met Brett a year after I lost my mum and he’s been super supportive the whole time and is quite happy to move with me.

“He’s been awesome.”

It still hasn’t quite sunk in for Spud that she’s now an AFLW-listed footballer.

Going from the small girl from Ballarat to a member of the Gold Coast SUNS’ inaugural AFLW team has been a fascinating journey – and there’s still more to come.

“This whole thing has been crazy,” she exclaimed.

“I never thought this would happen, it’s come out of nowhere.”