The announcement that the Matildas would play fixtures in Melbourne and Ballarat was met by enthusiasm from the footballing public.
The contests will be against neighbors New Zealand on June 4 and 7, with the latter being the curtain-raiser to the Socceroos friendly with Greece on the same night.
It’s an exciting coup for Victorians to be able to farewell the Matildas before they embark on an Olympic campaign – an achievement the Olyroos weren’t able to emulate – especially with both games afforded a live slot on the ABC.
But why has it taken 10 years for this to happen, and how can the football public prove that it shouldn’t happen again?
At the press conference, Victorian sports minister John Eren triumphantly reiterated Melbourne’s reputation as the nation’s sporting capital.
“The Victorian Government is proud to host an event that has such international importance but at the same time showcases football’s diversity and inclusiveness,” he said.
Likewise, FFA CEO David Gallop was full of praise for the concept.
“It’s a rare opportunity to see the Socceroos and Matildas in action on the same stage,” he said.
Unfortunately, rare especially for the Matildas. Incredibly, 2006 – a three-game series against Mexico with further legs at Bob Jane Stadium and Anderson Reserve – marked the last time the Matildas played in Melbourne.
It’s been a long time between drinks. That series saw the likes of Cheryl Salisbury, Heather Garriock and Thea Slatyer still turning out in green and gold.
To gain some perspective, the W-League didn’t even exist back then. And since its inception, two Melbourne clubs have won the championship. Australia has also won an Asian Cup and consistently qualified for World Cups.
While it’s an outstanding development to see the national team back in the state, one can’t help but feel the past decade has been a missed opportunity to further grow interest for the sport in Melbourne, and also to give youngsters a glimpse of their heroes – particularly Melbourne products like Steph Catley and the now-retired Melissa Barbieri – in action in green and gold, at a time when participation continues to boom in the women’s game.
By contrast, in that time Sydney has held nine Matildas fixtures.
Other sports have also been in the spotlight in the city. Ronda Rousey was a headlining act when the UFC arrived in Melbourne. Bri Davey, goalkeeper at both Victory, City and the Matildas, has received considerable media coverage for her participation in women’s AFL. The women’s Big Bash League has also made some serious mainstream in-roads via free-to-air TV.
But perhaps it’s now time for fans to make the strongest case that international women’s football in Victoria is really worth investing in.
Admittedly, the fixtures aren’t the most viewer-friendly. A 5pm kick-off on a Tuesday isn’t ideal for those at work or training at a grassroots and elite state clubs, and the Ballarat Red Devils NPL team is scheduled play at Morshead Park on June 4 as well – imagine a national team being a curtain raiser for an NPL clash.
But it’s an occasion that nevertheless can’t afford an ambivalent reaction. Involvement via strong attendances, viewership and social media activity (at all levels of the game, really) needs to make a statement to the FFA and governments/councils that the interest in the women’s game in Victoria is strong and ongoing.
Both W-League Grand Finals at AAMI Park and Lakeside Stadium in Melbourne enjoyed considerable turnouts, aided by active support.
Furthermore, if a Twitter campaign can supposedly help pull a first international in a decade over the line, there’s nothing to say more people power can’t influence decisions made from above.
While disappointment in the decade-long gap is understandable, supporters and pundits need to vote with their feet that internationals in the state should be a more regular occurrence.
“There has already been high demand for tickets to the Socceroos’ match against Greece and now the Matildas farewell to Rio will add a great sense of occasion. It will be a fantastic celebration of the game,” Gallop continued.
Hopefully, it won’t also be a farewell to the Matildas in Melbourne for another 10 years. A decade’s absence for a national team of one of the biggest sports in the nation isn’t the best look for a sporting capital.
But there are many aspects of the women’s game, even things such as more regular W-League highlights on TV or online beyond the odd clips from Fox Sports (but that’s a case for another day), which can be influenced by the public – so long as the numbers are there to prove it.