At this point in the World Cup, if you don’t consider the tournament a rousing success in Australia (and in New Zealand) you either haven’t been paying attention or you’re being deliberately obtuse.
While New Zealand didn’t quite hit the heights they would’ve hoped to achieve, Australia has used the passion of the fans in the stadium to come out of a tricky group, and then proceed to knock out Denmark and France on route to the semi-finals. Australia has the talent to contend with the best teams around but it’s the home field advantage that has pushed them over the edge.
“I played with a boys team, there wasn’t a girls team then. I went and watched the Matildas play when I was 12 years old and I think there was 300 people in the stadium,” said Ellie Carpenter at a press conference. “That still [made me want] to play for Australia. I was still dreaming to play on that pitch with the girls, when 300 people were in the stands. And I think now if I was a 12 year old in Stadium Australia, in Suncorp [Stadium], watching sold out crowds, how amazing that is for the young girls, young boys, to see that. How far we’ve come is just unimaginable.”
It wasn’t that long ago that Australia could only get roughly 5,000 fans to come and watch the Matildas but now, leading into this World Cup and beyond, fans have turned up by the tens of thousands. With each game the Matildas featured in at this tournament, the support has only increased, with fan zones across the country constantly filling up with yellow and green jerseys.
If AFL fans and rugby fans hanging around for their own matches to watch the Matildas in a thrilling penalty shootout doesn’t show you just how far the sport has come in the country, nothing else will.
The sport, and this team, has captured the nation. For what feels like the first time in their history, there’s a rising tide of support just for the Matildas and their jerseys are selling out in stores across Australia.
This is what you want for a country hosting the World Cup.
The fervour, the passion, the understanding of what their team is doing and the backing of their federation in every aspect. When the US hosted the World Cup in 1999, it became a lightening rod for the game in that country. This could be Australia’s lightening rod moment too. They play a semi-final in Sydney against one of the favourites, England and they know that no matter what, their fans will be there for every kick of the ball.
It’s been a long road for the Matildas, both on and off the pitch. Tony Gustavsson, after years serving as the right hand man for Pia Sundhage and Jill Ellis, has achieved a moment in history for Australia. He has done it through developing players that already had the world’s notice like Sam Kerr and Cailtin Foord, while giving the likes of Mary Fowler a chance to prove themselves, despite their age. He was even willing to sacrifice tournaments like the 2019 World Cup and the Tokyo Olympics in order to continue rebuilding this team so that by 2023, they’d be ready for the World Cup.
It’s paid off.
For years, for decades they told us nobody cared.— Ann Odong (@AnnOdong) August 12, 2023
We didn’t believe them. Now they believe us.
Congratulations to all of you who refused to quit at every level.
Tonight is yours. #TilitsDone https://t.co/yb1fZB6a4F
Australia have players that any team would want in their ranks. All the players, bar two, are playing in professional leagues for fully professional teams. They have all grown as players and are now using all they have learned to propel Australia to their first semi-final ever in World Cup history.
The Netherlands did it (2017 UEFA Women’s Euro). England did it (2022 UEFA Women’s Euro). The USWNT did it (1999 World Cup). Why not Australia? The hosts have vociferous crowds behind them and like the afore mentioned teams, could use it to end up lifting the World Cup trophy for the first time ever.
What Football Australia does with this ground swell of support remains to be seen. Australia could go out of the tournament at the hands of England but that doesn’t mean the support will suddenly disappear. The federation has to be ready to capitalise on this moment, use the current stock and ‘celebrity status’ the likes of Sam Kerr, Mackenize Arnold and more, to push the sport further in Australia. There are currently no full-time professional managers in the A-League, something that could be reckoned with right now considering the support the team has. Football Australia can change the landscape of the sport forever and it’s all thanks to the Tillies.
The Tillies are one step closer to glory and Australia is right behind them, passionately showing their support in every bar, stadium and home across the country.