Youthful Matildas growing under captaincy of Barbieri
Matilda's captain and goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri (Image supplied)
The Matilda’s are arguably the most famous women’s sporting team in Australia. Although they are still detrimentally ignored by large sections of the media, they have worked hard at gaining greater exposure for women’s football in this country.
A lot of this credit is due to Australian captain and goal-keeper Melissa Barbieri, a determined but kind figure on the football field. She brings calm and commanding presence to the Australian squad. Last Sunday Australia was set to play New Zealand in Wollongong.
In the lead up to the match, I asked Melissa if she considered New Zealand to be a challenge. She wisely answered she did not underestimate her opposition saying they are a “very big threat….they’re going to be very aggressive.”
Melissa’s answer reflects her experience and wisdom in the game. The ‘Football Ferns’ as they are known held the youthful Matildas to a 1-1 draw. There were 13 players that had never played for Australia. Melissa is used to being cautious.
In 2000, a misdiagnosed hamstring tendentious injury almost ended her international career. Most players would have given up but Melissa had inner drive. She worked hard to switch from field player to goals. Melissa said “it just gave me another opportunity to make the national team. People would have said it was a cruel blow but fate pushed me into goals and I was back.”
On the 19 February 2010, her reward was the Australian captaincy. Melissa she was “very honoured and proud” that she was captain. Although she says it can also can be very stressful at times she loves the job and would never take the captaincy for granted.
In contrast, after experiencing the Athens Olympics in 2004, she said not getting to London this year was “one of those low points in (my) football that you have to try and overcome.”
On a more positive note she remembers bouncing back in the Matilda’s famous match against Norway where she uncharacteristically let the opposition score a goal. She holds a strong belief in her team mates.
Melissa said, “I knew as soon as the ball went in the back of the net, I knew that my team would come back out and score… (then) we scored so I’m glad they put a ball in the back of the net.”
Melissa is of Italian heritage but was born in Australia. This rich family heritage has made her a multicultural and Australian Ambassador.
Intertwined with that is her belief in sport bridging cultural divides, particularly allowing girls from all cultural backgrounds to get involved in football. “We are already such a broad community. Such different diverse backgrounds. Football is the world game and it brings people together. I just hope that the more girls that play, the more people support them.”
Melissa would jump at the opportunity to coach the Matildas. Apart from football she is also interested in becoming an ambulance officer, using her job as a First Aid Officer in a Melbourne primary school as a springboard.
Under Melissa’s captaincy is long time friend Catherine Cannuli from Sydney. She made her first appearance for the Matildas one year ago against New Zealand and scored on debut. After a four year break she slowly gradually became a member of the Matildas squad again.
Last W League Season Catherine decided to make a change and move to Brisbane where she was well received and “had fantastic support from the Brisbane Roar Club.”
I asked her how she found captaincy under Melissa. She smiled: “Bubs has been great, I’ve known Bubs for a really long period of time (since) I first came into the national team back in 2002 when It’s very good to have a captain you can talk to and get advice (from).”
Then there were the younger Matildas. Caitlin is a Wollongong girl and said she was looking forward to playing in her home town an international.
Making her debut was Hayley Raso, just 17. Hayley was born in Brisbane but lives on the Gold Coast. She is a striker, usually right side. This was her first call up to the Australian squad after a training camp. She described it as exciting saying that playing for Australia was an “amazing feeling. It’s something that you dream about. You don’t ever think it’s going to happen.”
These players deserve far more recognition than the media has been giving them. Women’s football needs to be opened up to the wider community and shown in prime time viewing.