As football fans, are we allowed to turn our attention to the FIFA Women’s World Cup yet? Are we still glancing behind us for stray relegation play-off finals before diving headlong into a month of top-flight international football?
The domestic football season had its incredible climax at Commbank Stadium, the major leagues in Europe have come to an end and Australian fans of the world game can now sleep uninterrupted and have spare time on their hands once Manchester City complete their magnificent treble on Sunday morning.
It is a common belief that Australians get on board with events, especially sporting events, on a last-minute basis. Outside football circles, that seems to be the case again with the biggest women’s tournament ever to hit our country as we count down the days.
I often toss in the question “so, have you got your World Cup tickets yet?” to a conversation with people who are both fans and non-football people. The answer is usually “ah not yet,” but there is often a “which World Cup is that?” thrown back which never ceases to amaze me.
There are now forty days to go until the opening game. Over a million tickets have been sold for this World Cup, and we are on track to see attendance records broken. The army of willing FIFA volunteers for the tournament have already started to attend training courses.
The final phase of ticket sales opened on Tuesday for those who had not reacted earlier, and many fans will still be disappointed not to have secured a ticket for the Australia games. This thing is definitely happening.
The opening game, contrary to popular assumption, is not the Australia versus Ireland blockbuster at Stadium Australia. The first game of the tournament takes place at the magnificent Eden Park in Auckland, as co-hosts New Zealand take on the major European force Norway.
If you’re in Australia, you’ll be able to watch that one on a big screen somewhere at a FIFA Fan Festival; if you’re in Sydney, you will then head to Olympic Park to join the 80,000 other fans, perhaps even a majority of whom are supporting the team in green.
Or you could head to Wollongong to watch the Dragons and Tigers in the NRL which kicks off around the same time. What comedy scheduling.
Following that big opening Thursday night on July 20th, there comes an incredible run of three, sometimes four, games every day for two weeks until the 3rd August. The knockout round of 16 then has two games per day for four days before the games become more spaced out to let players rest and anticipation build, with breaks between the final rounds culminating in the final on Sunday 20th August.
This really is a festival of football and an opportunity to fill ones boots with women’s international football, an opportunity for every Australian that is unlikely to be repeated in a lifetime.
Chatting with a colleague in Brisbane, who happens to be a Brisbane Broncos fan, I was amazed to hear that they have a dilemma when Nigeria come to town on Thursday 27th July.
Unbelievably, while the Matildas are capturing the hearts of the nation at Suncorp Stadium, the Broncos are also playing at the Gabba against the Roosters in a Thursday night NRL clash. Needless to say, despite my colleague living a short walk from the Gabba, they will be heading across town to the only sporting event that night with a global audience.
The short-sightedness of the rugby league top brass to schedule a game on the same night as our national treasure is destined to backfire spectacularly.
But wait, that’s not all. When the entire nation is gripped by Matildas fever, the quarter-final in Brisbane on Saturday 12th August could see Australia coming up against a major opponent in France or the Korea Republic, a prime 5pm kick off with the world’s eyes again on the stadium temporarily known as Brisbane Stadium.
Where else would you want to be? Back at the Gabba watching Brisbane Lions take on Adelaide in the AFL? Don’t worry, if Australia don’t top Group B, they will be back in Sydney for the quarter-finals instead, filling Stadium Australia after overcoming England in the round of 16, and they will have to compete with… Sydney Roosters v The Dolphins at Allianz Stadium.
So, are we on board or not? Is the FIFA Women’s World Cup simply going to breeze into town like a whirlwind, bringing with it its household names, its renamed venues, its international brands, its colourful fans from overseas and its worldwide appeal?
Will the roadshow roll out of town in a cloud of dust after the final whistle on Sunday 20th August, leaving a huge void as we find ourselves at Panthers versus Parra wondering exactly what just happened? A word of caution to all Australians. Don’t miss out. Swallow your pride. Be part of the occasion.
Get that ticket to Canada versus Ireland, embrace Jamaica v Brazil, take that day off to watch Columbia versus Korea. You are witnessing the dawn of a new era for women’s football and football in general in this part of the world and you should get on board for the ride.