- Simon scored first World Cup goal by a player with Aboriginal background in 2011
- Olympian Cathy Freeman inspired Simon as a youngster
- Striker part of golden generation that go into France among the favourites
When Australia’s Kyah Simon scored twice against Norway in their final group match of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup™, it didn’t just give her side a 2-1 win, or help them qualify for the quarter-finals. No, there was something much more significant, on a personal level, for the then 20-year-old striker.
When Simon pulled her side back from a goal down to level the match, it meant she became the first player of Aboriginal background to score at a World Cup. To date, no indigenous player from Australia has followed her lead in the eight years since she achieved the accolade.
But at the time, she had no idea that the goal would be so significant.
“That was, I guess, a moment where I didn’t know I was the first Aboriginal player to score at a World Cup, but when I got told afterwards by a journalist, it was a very proud moment for me,” said Simon.
“A lot of other Aboriginals play other football codes, like rugby league, rugby union and AFL, so for me it was a really proud moment and hopefully one I can use as a tool to inspire other Aboriginal and indigenous girls around Australia to want to do that one day.”
Eleven years earlier, a nine-year-old Simon had watched another athlete she identified with set the world alight and become one of Australia’s most coveted athletes – male or female.
It was at the Olympic Games, held in Sydney in 2000, that 400 metre runner Cathy Freeman stormed to victory to claim a gold medal and become one of the success stories of the games.
As a fellow female athlete with Aboriginal heritage, Simon was drawn in by the aura of Freeman and hoped to one day emulate her achievements, but on the football field.
“My childhood hero was Cathy Freeman, who was amazing, that was a moment that inspired me," said Simon.
“Watching her achieve something so amazing, an Olympic gold medal, was incredible. I hope that moment in Germany when I became the first Aboriginal to score at a World Cup, is another Cathy Freeman moment for girls in Australia who want to play for the Matildas one day.”
Simon had already had a taste of what it was like to be Cathy Freeman a year earlier in 2010 when she scored the winning penalty in the AFC Women's Asian Cup final after the match against Korea DPR had gone to a penalty shoot-out.
Earlier in that match, a 16-year-old Sam Kerr had scored inside 20 minutes, with the Australia squad that won the tournament also featuring the likes of Claire Polkinghorne and Elise Kellond-Knight – who are still important first-team members nine years on.
Simon believes the connection and friendship that continued into the 2011 World Cup and through to today is a key factor behind the rise of the Matildas, who currently sit sixth in the world ranking and have become one of the most popular teams in women’s football. Many have labelled them Australia’s golden generation and see the Matildas as one of the favourites for France 2019.
For Simon, not much has changed in those nine years – she’s just hanging out with her mates. “It’s been interesting,” she said.
“I still look at all the girls around me and us just being mates and being no different to when we were 18, 19, 20-years old and just hanging out. That’s the same view I have on those girls now, to see how far we have come as Matildas and people, and how we have matured.
“I think it’s been exciting to see the progression, and having such a close knit group and also some great friendships also keeps it exciting, knowing we are there for each other every step of the way, going out there fighting for one another when we wear the green and gold.
“It doesn’t matter if its World Cups, an Olympic Games or friendlies, the group is something quite unique and I hope to spend many more years with these girls and see how we go onto bigger and better things, starting this year in France.”