To describe the current landscape of Australian football, I would use the word turbulent. For months Australian football fans have been subjected to a spray of anti-football headlines scripted for nothing more than to try to disrupt the spread of our great game. But, this week the headlines have changed.
“Rio 2016: Four Examples Of Joy As Matildas Down Japan” – The Australian
“Perfect Matildas end Olympic drought with 2-1 win over North Korea” – Sydney Morning Herald
“Matildas up to No. 5 in FIFA world rankings after Olympic qualification, leapfrogging Japan to be Asia’s best” – The Daily Telegraph
The Matildas, ‘our Matildas’ as we so aptly refer to them, seem to be the exception to the rule. Like clockwork, with an international tournament comes an outpouring of overwhelming public support for our girls.
Check in with social media before, during and especially after the Matildas have played and regardless of the result the same word is used; proud. We are proud of this team.
We are proud of the sacrifices they make to better their game, we are proud of the way they represent our country, we are proud of their effort, their passion and the way they continue to make history and defy the odds – uphill.
That pride exceeds football politics, it extends beyond code wars and encapsulates real Australian spirit.
In all that, the most exciting thing about this team is that they are just getting started.
The Matildas are a young team, a product of a cycle transitioning from retiring greats to emerging youngsters. The team, spearheaded by the luminary Lisa De Vanna, is an exciting mix of young and younger players brimming with leadership potential.
The ‘senior players’ ranging somewhere between 21-25 years old are bolstered by unbelievable football experience in domestic and international competition and most lavishly, Asian and Women’s World Cups past.
Together, the team have grown in football stature, learned the system, put in the hard yards and now have the opportunity to break Australian football barriers and continue to make history together.
The culture is layered in self-belief, passion and spirit and coated in the most genuine respect for the Matildas before them. The girls play from the heart, for their country, for their families, friends and most of all – for each other. Put simply, it is impossible not to love this team. But, like all tournaments before it, as the qualifiers ended so too did the headlines. We stopped talking about this phenomenal group of elite athletes and parked our pride until the next time they do something amazing; which will be medalling in Rio.
So, the question remains, how do we keep the buzz alive? Amidst the changing of the guard was the hovering fear that without senior leadership, the players would lose their voice. Contrary, the events that unfolded following the Women’s World Cup and consequential CBA Negotiations proved that the Matildas are more willing than ever to stand up for their team, for themselves and to push for change.
We can’t stop at pushing for change. Change is inevitable, but progress? Well, that is optional.
I am done with asking for change. I am asking for progress. Progress beyond tweeting, liking or Instagraming the highlights reel during a tournament.
Progress in the treatment of players as full-time professionals, in the duration and standard of the W League, in public exposure via Matildas home games, in advertising, in streaming options.
Other sports are progressing. AFL with a women's league that will have three free to air matches. Cricket with an almost doubling of their investment in women's cricket from $2.36 million to $4.23 million and the ever present netball.
The thing with change is it will happen whether we want to or not. It will happen with or without us and right now there is a battle for our future Matildas.
The Matildas are more than just a tournament favourite, they are the future of Australian sport and as a self-proclaimed sporting nation – it is time to progress.