It seems Abby Erceg won't be a lone crusader.

Following on from the shock retirement of the Football Ferns captain earlier this week, it's possible that further players will join Erceg in leaving the national program or retiring prematurely.

The 27-year-old Erceg slammed New Zealand Football after her announcement, saying NZF "undervalued" the women's game and had created an environment that couldn't sustain high performance.

Her frustration is reportedly shared by other current players, which should set alarms bells ringing at NZF.


"Abby could be the first of a number of people to walk off," said former Fern Kristy Hill. "It might not happen right away but it will happen because the current environment and demands aren't sustainable. Abby has bought daylight to the issue...but it's not going away."

Long time Fern captain Maia Jackman (60 caps) echoes Hill's concerns.

"I wouldn't be surprised if there were more departures," said Jackman. "The players don't feel supported and it's the same problem that has been cropping up for years."

Erceg's move was a major surprise, but not to insiders. While all has appeared well with the Ferns' programme, and their results have been tracking well, a variety of issues have been simmering below the surface .

"There are many examples," said Erceg. "I remember leading into the Rio Olympics, we had players trying to sustain a high performance lifestyle and training twice a day but they couldn't afford to feed themselves, living on two minute noodles and that kind of thing. Their [iron levels] were too was a bad situation."

Erceg said the players were eventually helped by a hardship grant from the New Zealand Professional Footballers Association.

There were other issues, large and small, that have become cumulative over the years.

Jackman can relate to Erceg's frustrations, having been part of the Ferns group that fought for a daily allowance, before it was finally granted in 2010.

"We were always told there was no money," said Jackman. "It is difficult for NZF - there are a lot of costs in staging games - but players need to feel supported."

Jackman was saddened by Erceg's move - and the consequences for the Ferns - but applauds her stance.

"If someone doesn't do something it will never change," said Jackman. "The demands on these athletes are massive - and getting bigger - but there is not much coming back the other way."

Hill had worked with the NZPFA since her retirement but has recently stepped away, frustrated at the lack of progress in negotiations with NZF.

"There isn't an easy solution because it is complicated," said Hill. "But the burden needs to be shared. At the moment it is almost all on the players. There is a big gap between the expectations from [NZF] and the resources that are provided."

Hill wonders how NZF expects the Ferns to compete with fully professional teams, when some players are living at a level "barely above subsistence".

A few days on from her decision, Erceg has no regrets.

"It wasn't easy at all but it was the right one," said Erceg. "You put so much into a four year cycle - physically, emotionally, mentally - why would you do it again if you don't feel valued or supported?"

She hopes things can change, and can see some easy wins for NZF.

"There are things that haven't been tapped into," said Erceg. "We have girls spending a fortune driving across Auckland twice a day for training. What about a car sponsor? Or some petrol vouchers? There must be creative ways out there."

The Ferns face Scotland on Wednesday in the Cyprus Cup.