As the Matildas roar into the quarter-finals of the 2023 World Cup, the fervour across the nation created by their achievements continues to grow.
Television ratings for the Round of 16 clash with Denmark hit new highs, after impressive numbers during the group stage. It has been sell-out crowd after sell-out crowd for the Aussies, live sites have been well attended and simply stunning to witness, whilst even the more casual of football fans are getting in the mood and embracing the tournament.
No Australian team enjoys as much goodwill as the Matildas and the subsequent emotional investment made means matches are watched with clenched bums and mild headaches.
But is the average Aussie really changing their views on football and destined to stick around, or just embracing the atmosphere that will end seemingly before it has begun?
As research for the World Cup diary I’m currently writing, I decided to hit the streets and find out.
I asked people what they were making of the event itself and the Matildas run that is threatening to build into a formidable one.
I started with KP, and Indian migrant who manages my local bottle shop. “It is amazing, I never realised so many people were interested in women’s football. I don’t know the players but I’m trying to learn about as many as I can.”
Not 20 metres away, I stationed myself outside a major supermarket, with the manager on duty Lynne, a Kiwi by birth, holding a very different view of the World Cup. “I lost interest when we were knocked out. I don’t really care now, I’ll be supporting whoever plays Australia.”
I sent a survey to school with my daughter and asked her to canvas the views of her peers. The 40 girls surveyed rated the tournament as a collective 9.2 out of 10 and all indicated that they were more, rather than less likely, to attend an A-League Women’s match after watching the World Cup.
Note to Football Australia, get on this quickly please and ensure it happens.
I pulled up a chair alongside the volunteer Justices of the Peace outside the supermarket and asked a few random folk what they were making of the tournament as they strolled by.
“It is so good to see women being the stars for once”, said one. “I’ve been watching the matches with my kids and we went to the Republic of Ireland game, now they both want to play football” commented another and a teenage boy who plays park football himself said interestingly, “The matches have been great, the quality of the play is really high.”
It was difficult to find a person disengaged with the World Cup, only the odd grouch crossed my path. One elderly fella took the cake when he claimed not to have watched one second of the coverage and it made me wonder just what would possess someone to be so headstrong and determined to do so.
A full morning on the clipboard led into a much required haircut. The shop is run by two Persian brothers who employ a Syrian MMA fan and a Lebanese bodybuilder. I chatted to them all for around ten minutes and each one was enjoying the tournament despite not being football supporters outside of the English Premier League.
I asked them if they were a little surprised by the quality, the crowds and the interest. To a man they all said yes and had a wine and cheese night planned for the clash with Denmark that evening.
My next door neighbours are South American – one Colombian, the other Argentinian. Over a cool beverage on the front lawn, they outlined the supporter-ship plan of attack for the next week.
“We are going for Colombia, yet if they don’t get through we will become Matildas fans straight away. It actually gives us a good chance to be emotionally involved deeper into the tournament.”
It was interesting to chew over the Argentinian’s comment, “I never thought I would see this level of interest in football in Australia. It is madness out there. Not quite as mad as South America, but pretty mad.”
Last Sunday morning I watched some Women’s NPL Youth football at Bella Vista Public School in Sydney’s Northwest. Catching up with parents, old friends and many of the players, their sentiments around the World Cup echoed the ones I gathered the following Monday.
It appears obvious the tournament has done what many predicted and reached out to people well beyond those already passionate about the game. Now it is in Football Australia’s hands to cash in and parlay the interest and engagement into something more meaningful.
That is the area where much scepticism still exists, with fears that all the goodwill and passion may pass when the caravan drives off and we all feel a little depressed for a few days when it is finally over.
Hopefully, the legacy goals that have been laid out remain on track and result in real change and growth in Australian football. I’d suggest that each and every Matildas win makes that an even stronger possibility.