While Australia’s game against New Zealand at Seymour Shaw Park in 1979 is officially recognised as our first ever women’s international, truth be told, an Australian team made its debut on the international stage four years earlier in Hong Kong.
On 25 August 1975, at the first ever AFC Women’s Championship tournament, an ‘Australian XI’ went down 3-2 to Thailand in front of 4,119 people. Pat O’Connor had the distinction of scoring the first goal for Australia in the 58th minute.
The trip may never have been had it not been for the commitment and determination of the ladies involved and their coach Joe O’Connor. There were no big wages or multi-million dollar endorsements deals back then. The team had to raise their own money to fund the trip, from selling raffle tickets to participating in car washes to rattling tins in the Sydney CBD.
A member of that 1975 team was Dutch born striker Trixie Tagg. The former St George Budapest pioneer who went on to be the first ever Matildas female coach, fondly remembers a trip that was a battle against the odds as much as it was a football tournament.
“We had been fundraising for 18 months,” recalls Tagg. “The men’s Australian Soccer Federation, with Sir Arthur George, supported us and arranged for us to wear the Australian XI badge.”
The teams itself was not without its controversy, with the majority of them being made up of players from the powerhouse ladies club at the time, St George Budapest. In fact nine of those St George players won the National Championships with NSW in 1974 in Sydney.
The entire team that went to Hong Kong came from NSW, a sore point with the Australian Womens Soccer Association which had been formed a year earlier.
“We had a number of players from St George as well as Connie Byrnes and Sue Binnes from Ingleburn,” remembers Tagg. “People say that we were only a club side and initially it was going to be a tournament for clubs, but it later became a tournament for Nations.
“New Zealand, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong were there as well as us.”
After their first loss against Thailand, the Australians came up against Singapore. Tagg opened the scoring in a 3-0 win in front of 2,226 fans. O’Connor and Julie Dolan also netted to help Australia finish second in their three team group; from where they progressed to the semi-finals against old foes New Zealand.
In front of nearly 7,000 fans, Tagg and Dolan scored again but the Aussies went down 3-2, with Isobel Richardson netting a double for the ‘Football Ferns’.
Australia then found themselves in a third placed playoff against Malaysia, with a 5-0 romp securing a bronze medal finish, an impressive result for a ‘club side’. There were reportedly 12,000 people there for the play-off, which was a double-header which included the Final where New Zealand beat Thailand 3-1.
Post the tournament, a select group of players from each team were awarded an Asian All Stars badge. The Australian ladies selected were Tagg, O'Connor, Dolan, Connie Selby and Christel Abenthum. A promised tour of Europe for these players unfortunately never eventuated.
There has been much debate over the years whether that 1975 team should be acknowledged as the first ever Australian women’s international team. However this doesn’t take anything away from the pride felt by Tagg and her team mates in pulling on the green and gold and representing their country in a foreign land.
“We know we did our country proud,” she says without a hint of doubt. “I treasure the memory of wearing the Australian XI jersey!”
PHOTO: Top - the 1975 Australian XI who played in the first ever AFC Womens Championships. Bottom - Trixie Tagg playing Malaysia .