The time has come for the Matildas of the past to be welcomed back to their Australian footballing family according to two former legends.
Since 1979, there have been 205 women who have had the privilege of wearing the Green & Gold. From cap number one in Julie Dolan to cap 205 Jenna McCormick, all of those who have come and gone are part of the rich tapestry of Australian women’s football that makes our history so special.
There are ladies that played prior to 1979 who have also contributed. Pat O’Connor’s pioneers of 1975, who went to the first Asian Cup in Hong Kong; and Connie Selby’s 1978 team who played in the World Women's Invitational Tournament in Chinese Taipei, a prelude to the Women’s World Cup.
Sadly many of these ladies have often spoken of their disconnect with Australian football. A number feel like they don’t belong or have never been part of our footballing legacy.
As we celebrate the centenary of women’s football in the next 12 months, and prepare to invite the world to our doorstep in 2023, it’s important for Australia’s footballing soul that we reconnect with our past insists FFA Hall of Famer Joey Peters.
“It something that’s very personal,” explains Peters, who was capped 110 times by Australia. “We played for Australia at World Cups and Olympics where no one knew our names.
“We’d sign autographs after games for kids who would want us to sign their poster, and you had to politely say ‘I’ve already signed it’, and thats why it means so much for the current Matildas to continue that legacy.
“The Matildas are now famous for it.
“Then there’s the women that paved the way for me. I was a lucky one. I at least got a retirement game. I think only Me, Chez, H, Dizee Alagich got one, they were the most memorable games, I even remember Cath Cannulli’s last W-League game and she scored a penalty.
“We should have more of them honouring more past players.”
Peters, who played professionally in Brasil, Sweden and America, is pleased to see the history of women’s football in Australia now being acknowledged.
“I love that we’re growing a culture from our history being re-told by the likes of The Women’s Game, Ann Odong and so on...it’s all so important.
“Every soccer chick’s story counts, there are so many amazing players who are champion people first and foremost.
“I think of my local Newy girls - Shelley, McGovs, Loz, Katie G, Chez, Renee Iserief, Lisa Rollo, there’s too many to mention, but they need to be...each one has shaped our history and our culture, which amongst all the drama and heatbreak, are an army of women who just played for the love of the game and a love of a team and the Green & Gold.”
While football is well known for being the world game, and the exploits of local legends such as Johnny Warren, Craig Johnston, Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill as well as foreign stars like Pele, Diego Maradonna and Johan Cruyff are much celebrated, the women who have represented our country with equal pride and passion are often forgotten.
Sandra Brentnall, an immigrant from Nottingham in England, scored the Matildas first ever goal on 6 October 1979 against our 2023 co-hosts New Zealand.She also scored the first hat-trick for Australia against the same opponents in New Zealand.
Trixie Tagg played for the ‘Australian XI’ in 1975 in Hong Kong, and in 1981 became the first woman to coach the Matildas. Only one other woman - Hesterine de Reus - has had that honour since.
On that tour of New Zealand, Sharon Wass became the youngest footballer to be capped by Australia at the tender age of 14.
Shelley Youman was married and had three kids before she played for Australia in the late 1990s.
Alison Forman was the first Australian woman to win a top-flight domestic title in Europe, clinching the Elitedivisionen in Denmark with Fortuna Hjørring in 1994. She went on to win five League Championships and five Cup medals with Fortuna in a glittering career with the Danish powerhouse.
Julie Murray scored the decisive goal in the 1994 Oceania Championships that helped Australia qualify for their first women’s World Cup in 1995 in Sweden. It was at that tournament where Angela Iannotta scored Australia’s first ever goal - for men or women - at a World Cup. Iannotta herself didn’t know of this achievement until a number of years later.
Cheryl Salisbury played 151 times for Australia, more games than any other player. In fact the first six people in the list of most caps for Australia are women.
Lets not forget the 2010 Matildas who won our first Asian Cup. While a number from that team still play today, the likes of Kylie Ledbrook and Sally Shiphard (who both netted decisive penalties in the Final shootout) as well as Leena Khamis and Kim Carroll who both scored during the tournament, would be relatively unknown in the wider community.
Brentnall, who celebrated her iconic goal by calling her mum post game rather than go through the now common ritual of autographs, press conferences and ice baths, describes what it meant to her to play for her country.
“A dream come true, a feeling of utmost pride , the ultimate achievement,” she says with more than a hint of pride. “To represent your country is beyond words, it is a humbling experience filled with immense passion to wear that shirt.”
Brentnall, understands why there hasn’t been recognition of past Matildas, but encouraged the current generation to learn about who has gone before them.
“Australia is a sporting nation, but other codes get the attention, so it hasn’t been easy to get us out there.
“Also, the respect of the past isn’t there.
“Women’s soccer is all about now, each state is responsible for the lack of recognition for the Matilda’s who have laid down a ground breaking platform for the generations on going. TV, radio etc, wasn’t around then either.
“I have also found there isn’t enough knowledge from the current players of today about how and where it all started.
“Let’s educate each other and celebrate what we are all a part of.”
In the next three years the Matildas will play at the Tokyo Olympics (2021) and the Asian Cup in India (2022) before the ‘greatest show on earth’ comes down under. These tournaments will unearth some more gems who will carry on the legacy of Peters, Brentnall and co.
By the time 2023 comes around, and the next chapter in the Matildas’ amazing story is written, let’s hope the ghosts of the past are brought back to life.