Celebrations mark centenary of women’s football Down Under

24 Sep 2021
  • Friday 24 September 2021 marks 100 years since the first women’s football match in Australia

  • The match was a primary foundation stone in building the game Down Under

  • Australia & New Zealand will host the first Southern Hemisphere edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023

In December 1920, Dick, Kerr Ladies famously created a women’s football landmark when over 50,000 spectators turned up for one of their matches at Everton’s Goodison Park. Less well known is that another milestone match took place in faraway Australia some nine months later.

On 24 September 1921, Australia’s first public women’s football match took place at the Brisbane Cricket Ground in front of a reported 10,000 spectators. The match came just a few months after Australia’s first recognised local team – the LaTrobe Ladies (pictured above) – were formed. There is, though, earlier recorded evidence of local women’s football matches as far back as 1903.

A brief success

For the record, North Brisbane defeated South Brisbane 2-0 but the occasion was, of course, far more important than the result on that spring day.

Perhaps most impressive was the attendance; a remarkable figure for a sleepy city of just 200,000 citizens. And the following day’s press duly hailed the players’ skill and stamina.

Celebrations today to mark the centenary were highlighted by a recreation of that match at the same venue. Set to be the centrepiece venue for the recently-named host of the 2032 Olympic Games, the Gabba, as it is colloquially known, bears no resemblance to its 1921 appearance.

From one small step to welcoming the world

Fast forward a century and Australia, in concert with trans-Tasman neighbours New Zealand, are set to host a newly-expanded 32-nation FIFA Women’s World Cup™. That momentous tournament will mark barely imaginable growth for the pioneers who took the field in bloomers and ill-fitting jerseys 100 years ago.

But the early 1920s proved to be a false dawn. Far from it being a massive building block, it proved to be an isolated marker and, with the benefit of hindsight, a missed opportunity.

While women’s football was effectively banned in England a few months later, their Australian counterparts continued in modest circumstances, restrained by an unofficial handbrake with access to pitches often denied.

But pivotal landmark achievements were eventually chalked off. The Australian Women's Soccer Association was formed in the early 1970s, and the annual National Championships were first held in 1974, just a matter of weeks after Australia’s breakthrough appearance at the FIFA World Cup™.

The Australian women’s national team took to the field in 1979 for their first recognised international. The setting could barely have been more modest, with seating at the suburban venue in Sydney comprising of volunteer-made wooden benches, while players spent the week of the match depositing flyers and sewing badges on to the jerseys.

A national league was established in 1996, a year after Australia’s first qualification for the Women’s World Cup, and the modern iteration – the W-League – commenced in 2008.

In truth, it wasn’t until recent years that recognition of local women’s football experienced stratospheric growth. The Matildas sold out their first home match in 2017 and some remarkable goalscoring exploits saw captain Sam Kerr truly become a household name.

Solid foundations for success

On the field, Australia reached a first Women’s Olympic Football Tournament semi-final last month at Tokyo 2020. Just this week, the Matildas enjoyed their first match of a new long-term deal on commercial TV, as momentum towards 2023 continues to grow. At grassroots level, women’s football is booming.

All of which would not be possible without the platform built by the generations of pioneers over the preceding century.

Australian women's football centenary recreation