Chloe Knott’s profile in football is on the rise. Part of the first-ever professional women’s club team in New Zealand, she’s also landing media roles such as guest co-presenter of Sky Sport’s Football Fix show.
But behind the apparent success of her football career is a sequence of setbacks and frustrations that have foiled her dreams of playing for New Zealand.
For 10 years, the 26-year-old Knott has been left out of national squads because of doubts and misunderstandings about whether she’s eligible.
Born in Bolton, England, in 1996, football was always in her DNA. She started playing football at six. Her street had a “weird slanted crappy patch of grass” and all the boys from the neighbourhood would play there for hours on end.
Knott would join in, “and all I can remember, is having the best time ever, playing football until 9.30 at night with my dad, every night in the summer.”
She went on to play for club and high school, where was spotted by Blackburn Rovers’ talent scouts, and attended their player trials.
Nothing would eventuate from that, as her family had already committed to moving to New Zealand. Knott’s uncle had moved to New Zealand six years before, seeking better opportunities for his children.
“My uncle just raved about it, and my mum said it was a no-brainer; ‘we want a better life for our kids too’.”
In New Zealand, she attended Rangitoto College, who she represented in school football. Her first club was East Coast Bays.
After being seen playing summer soccer by a coach, Knott was asked to join the woman’s first team. She was just13. She then went on to play for Waitakere United and Three Kings United (with whom she won the Kate Sheppard Cup).
Her success at club level led to her inclusion in the New Zealand U-17s.
Knott’s dreams of representing New Zealand appeared to be coming true but were soon dashed.
After training for 18 months with the nationalU-17s ahead of the 2012 Azerbaijan FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup, Knott was told she wouldn’t be able to take part.
Though she had attained her citizenship in 2009, New Zealand Football didn’t know if she was eligible or not to play for the country and were unclear about the eligibility rules. To be safe, and to avoid the risk of sanctions, Knott would not be considered for selection.
“That one really hurt. I loved those girls because I was best friends with all of them, and we had been together for almost two years, so that was really rough to miss out,” she says.
Beside her in that squad were future Football Ferns such as CJ Bott, Lily Alfeld, Meikayla Moore and Daisy Cleverley.
More heartbreak soon followed. History was to repeat itself in the lead up to the 2014 U-20 World Cup to be held in Canada.
Knott was with the squad all the way up to the pre-tournament team, and again was told by NZF that she would not be selected because of doubts about the rules around eligibility.
Knott made a decision: “I can’t wait around anymore”, and she accepted an offer from Georgetown University for a football/college scholarship in the United States.
Soon after she left for Georgetown University, Knott was informed of the rules on national team eligibility.
The FIFA rules stated that to be eligible to play for your country, you have to stay in the country for five consecutive years. New Zealand Football told Knott that if she had stayed another two weeks in New Zealand, she would have satisfied the five-year requirement.
Due to lack of understanding and misinformation, Knott had left the country where she had been living continuously for four years 11 months and two weeks.
Knott spent five years overseas, in the US and then to England to complete her Master’s degree in Developmental Psychopathology. “It all worked out really well, over the years of playing and studying, (and) Iwas ready to come back home to New Zealand.”
Knott returned ‘home’ to New Zealand in 2019 by which time, NZ Football now fully understood the FIFA rules on eligibility.
The national administration sought exemption from FIFA, saying Knott had lived in the country previously for almost five years, but FIFA came back with a strong ‘no’, stating that her five-year qualification period would reset from the day she moved back home.
Knott is not eligible to play for New Zealand until 2024, when she’ll be 28.
“All I want to do is play football for my country,” she says.
“Even though over the past five years I’ve been back home every year for three months, and have been a New Zealand citizen since 2009, and even though all my family lives here, FIFA just doesn’t consider me eligible to play, which to me is a crazy, crazy rule.”
When she came back to New Zealand, Knott played for Northern Rovers.
In 2021, she heard the Wellington Phoenix were looking for players to form their first-ever women’s team. She emailed New Zealand Football, and they helped her get on the shortlist.
Finally, some good news — she made the team, became part of the inaugural Wellington Phoenix squad.
“I was so excited! I knew in my heart that I wanted to stay in New Zealand, and I always wanted to play at ahigh competitive level, and that just came at the perfect time for me.”
After impressing in her first season with the Phoenix, she was offered a contract for two more years. “I’m currently loving it. I love being a part of a New Zealand team, especially being a part of the first women’s professional football team.
“I love the backing that they’re giving us, so at the moment I’m just loving where I’m at. So until I stop loving it, I just want to stay at the Phoenix.”
And is her dream still to play for New Zealand?
“Definitely! I feel like I’ve played for every club in New Zealand, but I still haven’t managed to get a cap yet.
“If I ever get there, it will be an amazing feeling …That’s the dream.
“New Zealand is my home and I can’t even consider living somewhere else.”
A place in the Ferns might have to wait but Knott is making the most of her talent, first discovered as a young girl playing on a “weird slanted crappy patch of grass” with the local kids.
*Knott and her Phoenix teammates start their new Liberty A-League season on November 20, when they host Melbourne City in their season opener.