Matildas headline milestone week Down Under

  • New levels of interest for women’s football in Australia

  • Record crowds and heightened media interest for the Matildas

  • Enhanced focus on growing the game at all levels

In the decades to come it may be that September 2017 is looked back upon as the moment when women’s football in Australia reached a turning point.

The national team - the Matildas - have been around for 40 years, and a national league for half that time. But while incremental progress has been slow at best, the game is now on a clear upward trajectory and it is the Matildas leading the charge.

The national team capped a remarkable week with two dynamic wins over Brazil in front of record crowds. Off the field there was landmark progress too, most notably significantly enhanced pay and conditions for players in the domestic W-League competition. And an inaugural women’s football symposium headlined one of several events designed to further bolster the sport.

But it was the in-form Matildas who stole the majority of headlines, A pair of hugely entertaining victories against Brazil made it three in succession against the South American champions, proving that recent wins against world champions USA and 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup™ runners-up Japan are evidence of a trend rather than an anomaly.

Headlined by The Best nominee and newly famous local heroine Sam Kerr – the forward enjoyed a rare front page story in the Sydney Morning Herald - the Matildas drew record crowds to mirror a similar upsurge in numerous countries over the past few years.

A team record 15,000 crowd in Sydney on Saturday remarkably outdid the local Australian Rules club playing a finals match nearby, as well as an international for the Australian rugby team in the nation’s capital. The attendance figure is surpassed only by a double-header with the men’s team played during the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

The new mark, however, lasted just three days. Nearly 17,000 turned out on a school night in Newcastle in what has been reported as a record Australian women’s sporting crowd for a ticketed stand-alone event outside the Olympics.

In stark contrast, only 2,500 turned out when Australia last hosted Brazil in Brisbane just three years ago. Little wonder Matildas coach Alen Stajcic, who boasts over 15 involvement in women’s football, said: "This week has been groundbreaking, a turning point for the game.”

The players will return to action on home soil with a two-match series against China PR in November. Before then the W-League will take centre stage in late October. Among the pay increase and improved employment conditions, include base player payments rising over 400 per cent on a league-wide total.

Aiming for new highs Away from the pitch there were activities designed to stimulate the game at all levels. A women’s football business breakfast in Sydney aimed at the top end of town drew strong interest.

At grassroots level, Football NSW and Football Federation Australia co-hosted the inaugural Women in Football Forum with an emphasis on further growing all facets of the game. While playing numbers continue to boom, the quantity of female match officials, coaches and administrators is around half that of participation rates.

Over 150 attendees engaged in a variety of discussions including on global trends, further enhancing female interest and more. The keynote address, however, came from FIFA Corporate Communications Manager Honey Thaljieh who spoke from experience about empowering women through football.

It is a subject the former Palestine women’s national team captain knows all too well after facing societal and cultural barriers in order to play the game she loves.

“When you empower women’s football, it reflects well on the game and society as a whole,” said Thaljieh. “You only have to look at the Matildas and see the way everyone speaks proudly of them.

“It is important to focus on the grassroots because they are the future generation. Focussing on the grassroots can build momentum, and for individual young players it can build self-esteem, confidence and identity which is important beyond football.