Four years ago after making the documentary about the two Aboriginal footballers in the Australian Matildas side, “No Apologies” I urged the FFA to invest in the women’s game as this particulat group of young ladies had the potential to go where their male counterparts don’t, a World Cup Final.
It never happened. Tom Sermanni left and his replacement was not suitably qualified for the role. In fact her appointment smacked of Dutch cronyism and the FFA not having a clue about pedigree and experience and signing off on an appointment that should never have happened in the first place.
Alen Stajic was thrown in the deep end on the eve of the Asia Cup; many felt he should have had the role initially. He immediately showed that he had a rapport with the team and guided them to the final where ether lost a closely fought match with the then world Champions Japan.
Come the World Cup and not many gave Stajic and his team a hope of getting past the group stage as they had Sweden and the USA min their pool, both teams who always make the latter stages of the competition. To many he made the craziest decision yet, when he appointed the feisty, yet highly competitive Lisa de Vanna captain. It was a masterstroke.
The team did progress out of the group, not only that they became the first Australian senior side to make it to the Quarter finals of a World Cup. Lisa de Vanna also joined a unique group scoring for the third time in three world cups, joining Tim Cahill as the only other Australian to achieve such a goal. Rest assured as long as she stays fit Kyah Simon who was one of the girls in our documentary will also join this club in four years time.
What was sad was watching the game in which they were knocked out against Japan one could not help wondering what might have been achieved had the FFA shown more faith in the women.
Why is it that so many seem to not want to embrace the potential shown by female athletes? Why are so many solely focussed on the men’s side of the game?
The FFA would probably be blissfully aware that they are in August company in underestimating the potential, yet happily trotting out statistics on how the women’s side of the game is the fastest growing in Australia.
Manchester United claim to have the biggest female fan base, yet they do not have a women’s team.
They used to have one, although what really happened was they took over a club called Corinthians in 2000. Then two months after the Glazer family took over the club in 2005 the team was dropped as it was described “as not being part of the club’s core business.” No doubt the FFA will not rank the Matildas as being one of its core brands, the A-League and Socceroos being ahead of them, yet which has the most potential?
United are not alone, Real Madrid also do not have a women’s team.
Another club which surprisingly has a female owner is Southampton, and they too do not have a women’s team. All other Premier League clubs are represented in the pyramid of the women’s game in the England.
Funnily enough, just like the Matildas kept many an Australian awake so too did the England women’s team who have struggled just as much to gain publicity and respect. In fact Laura Bassett’s own goal may be the moment when Women’s football seized the consciousness of the British people. Everyone was talking about it, everyone was viewing it, and everyone felt sorry for the hapless defender putting through her own net. In AFL she would not doubt have been applauded, but therein lies the difference in the finite margins between success and defeat between the two codes.
England are already worried that the shooting star of recognition their team had has burst and is already one month later fading into just a memory. Something the Matildas know only too well.
Just like many female players in Australia many of the clubs in the England, although linked to Premier League clubs are run by volunteers and players are required to pay fees to play for their teams. In fact the Lady Mags, Newcastle United’s women’s team went to the local supermarket with buckets to try and raise the UKL30,ooo they ned to get through the season, all because owner Mike Ashley will not support the side. This too has a familiar ring to it.
Following the success of the Matildas the W-League sides should this coming season where possible be playing curtain raisers to their A-league counterparts; yet the owners of the franchises will say ground costs prohibit this. They could possibly play after the A-League sides, so that many of the fans stay on and support them. Many would be surprised at how much better the women’s game is to watch.
After watching the women you may not be so quick to call a diving injury feigning male player ‘a girl.’ This women put their male counterparts to shame the way they clatter each other brush themselves off and get on with it. In fact if FIFA wanted to cut out all the ‘faking’ in the men’s game they could easily highlight this very fact and embarrass the men into ‘manning-up.’
There have been many women who had plenty of talent and whose names should be on the lips of fans in many countries around the world, but poor infrastructure, a lack of support and no media coverage has meant that they have been left to anonymity.
Next up is Olympic Qualification and it is vital that the FFA makes rue that Stajic and his team are given everything they need to give them the best chance of qualifying. Four years a two week camp so long after the end of the world cup proved horribly inadequate and the momentum of the World Cup was lost.
If given the right support can the Matildas possibly make it into medal contention in Rio? There are plenty in Australia and overseas who will tell you that they can, but it will all come down to how much the FFA wants them to succeed.
Let us not forget that this is the body who did not even have the Asia Cup that the women won on display in their offices, but stashed in a cupboard.
The Women of Australian Football have been leading the way for a very long time and it is time they were given the support their efforts and their potential talents warrant.