While there is evidence of women playing organised football as early as 1909 in NSW, the 24 September 1921 is widely acknowledged as the first public game of football. Over 10,000 fans saw North Brisbane beat South Brisbane 2-0 at the GABBA.
This means come 25th September this year, women’s football in Australia will be embarking on its 100th year since that iconic match in Brisbane. While women were barred from playing in 1922, and the Australian Women’s Soccer Association (AWSA) wasn’t formed until 1974, there have been plenty of clubs formed and games played among women since that groundbreaking day in 1921.
No woman in this 100 years has a more unique place in Australian football history than former Matilda and FFA Hall of Famer, Cindy Heydon.
The St George Budapest legend, who started playing senior football in the NSW Metropolitan Ladies Soccer Association as a baby-faced 10 year old, was involved in three iconic events in Australian women’s football.
She was a member of the first women’s team to represent Australia in an international tournament in 1975, was part of the 1978 World Women’s Invitational and played in the Matildas' first official international in 1979.
As she reflects on a remarkable life, the now 59-year-old believes the 100 year anniversary of women’s football goes beyond the world game.
“I don’t think it’s just about women in football in Australia, I think it’s about all Australian women in sport,” says a proud Heydon.
“We have fought for equality for years in every sports arena for women and we have arrived at a time where we have some of the greatest women teams in the world and individual athletes.
“We as women have been undeniably disregarded as athletes and struggled to get sponsorships and recognition, but now we have proven our ability and worth as athletes and the world is taking notice of the fact that we are just not serious competitors, but we are strong confident women who certainly have come a long way without any support, only our own belief.“
While the current generation of Matildas enjoy the fame and fortune those of yesteryear wouldn’t have even dreamed of; it is worth noting that before Angela Iannotta banged home Australia's first World Cup goal in 1995, before Kyah Simon nailed the winning penalty in the 2010 Asian Cup Final and before Sam Kerr signed a multi million dollar deal with Chelsea; there were many pioneers like Heydon that went before them who paved the way for what has since come.
A team known as the ‘Australian XI’, played in the inaugural AFC Asian Women’s Championships in 1975, with then 14-year-old Heydon playing in all four games.
Although this team was made up of players from NSW, and predominately from St George Budapest, they were the first team of Australian women to play in an international tournament. They came third, showing how competitive Australia could be on the world stage.
Although it was 45 years ago, Heydon still has fond memories.
“I remember my mum crying when I left for the airport,” reminisces Heydon. “I also remember the amazing skills and talent in the other teams.
“The atmosphere in the stadium was amazing, people asking you for autographs, the humidity and the rain.
“The gratitude of being blessed to have been on that team. What an experience for a young soccer player...and the shopping, wow, I bought half of Hong Kong home, there were presents for everyone.”
Heydon is actually the youngest woman to ever represent an Australian international team, an honour she wasn’t even aware of. She was 14 years and 138 days when she played for the Australian XI against Thailand on 25 August 1975.
“Wow I thought there must have been someone else,” admitted Heydon. “They didn’t recognise that 1975 team, but what an amazing bit of information.”
Sharon Wass is officially the youngest ever Matilda, making her debut at the tender age of 14 years and 240 days when she played against New Zealand in 1981.
Heydon earned 11 official caps for Australia, this number rises when factoring in the 1975 AFC Women’s Championships and the 1978 World Women’s Invitational, a tournament where an Australian team played in Taiwan against a combination of club and international teams.
The 1978 team was officially recognised last year at a function celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Australian team, who are the first official Australian national women’s team.
The 1978 tournament was regarded as a precursor to an official women’s World Cup, which finally happened in 1991.
“Packed stadiums is what I remember of 1978,” remembers Heydon.
“The guards in Taiwan where we stayed, they never moved even when we tried to scare them,” she adds with a touch of cheek.
“I made some great international contacts and friends in Taiwan. The games were tough and I loved every minute of it.”
The 1979 team played New Zealand at Seymour Shaw Park on 6 October, with Heydon controlling the midfield that day. She was in close vicinity to Sandra Brentnall, who had the privilege of netting the first ever Matildas goal in a 2-2 draw. Sharon Loveless scored the second.
“At the time it never occurred to me that one day we would be classed as the pioneers of women’s football, but here we are, a part of history.
“In school when we studied history everyone we studied about was dead, so for me it was something we played and loved in our past.
“It was always an honour and an absolute pleasure to be part of these teams and to play soccer with these extraordinarily talented players.”
Apart from her outdoor football career, Heydon was also a talented futsal player, representing Australia with great distinction for over a decade.
“I played for Bankstown Tornadoes, we had lots of success and made up a lot of the Australian team,” explains Heydon, with more than a hint of pride.
Like all Australian football fans, Heydon was thrilled to see FIFA announce Australia and New Zealand as official hosts of the 2023 World Cup.
“It is an opportunity of a lifetime, so I hope we get it right.”