The Aussie pioneers who created history
Australia’s women’s national team are celebrating their 40th anniversary
Players organised their own promotion for the debut match in 1979
“It’s important that history is recognised”
When Australia took the field at the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup™, they were backed by a large support staff, had the backing of the nation and a barely-believable TV audience, one that even tipped cricket from the top of the broadcast viewership. Such ideas were ludicrous fantasies just four decades ago back when the national team was born on 6 October 1979.
To say the team did things rough back then would be an understatement of epic proportions. Local club Sutherland Sharks in Sydney’s south hosted the team’s first match at their Seymour Shaw with New Zealand the visitors. The main seating consisted of a couple of rows of home-made scaffold planks, the pitch was equally rough-hewn after a long winter of football.
Media interest was almost non-existent. Indeed, marketing, organisation and even kit management was largely the preserve of the players. Some players spent the week prior to the match dropping off flyers at local clubs and in letterboxes. Ultimately just a few hundred people, many of who were friends and family, were in attendance to see the birth of something special.
Players sewed the national crest onto their own shirts, while at least one player prepared for the match with a Saturday morning shift at the local supermarket ahead of the afternoon kick off.
For the record Sandra Brentnall nabbed the historic first ever goal as the Aussies drew 2-2 against the Kiwis sparking a long-standing Down Under rivalry.
Australia’s captain on that day, Julie Dolan says she doesn’t recall any particular awareness among the team that something extraordinary was being created as they prepared for their first outing in the Green and Gold.
“Much of my energy was spent on trying to get some publicity for the match and women’s soccer,” Dolan said. “Game day came and we played the game, and it was as simple as that.
“That didn’t make the excitement any less for us because we were playing for our country, but it didn’t have any significance in the eyes of the public.
“Mum and Dad, a few friends and a few bystanders might have come to that first international but not many more.”
Australia’s first ever captain has been recognised for her unique status, with the W-League and former National Women’s Soccer League naming the player of the year in her honour.
“Without history you are pretty much nothing,” she says. “It’s important that history is recognised and known.”
Dolan and her Class of '79 could not be happier with the current success of the Matildas, a nickname not coined until the 1990s. In recent years the team has grown exponentially in all facets with players enjoying significant public profiles, large home crowds and an Asian continental crown in the trophy cabinet.
“There has been all this build-up and build-up [over decades], and then all of a sudden, bang,” Dolan said. “The last few years has been a bit of a juggernaut.
“The team’s profile is great for the sport, great for women’s sport. They are almost household names, and who would have thought that would ever happen.”
And it all started with almost nothing, but a lot of heart and pride.