World Cup kicks goals for Australia

In 2023 the Matildas will don the green and gold kit in front of their home fans as the likes of Sam Kerr, Ellie Carpenter, Caitlin Foord and Chloe Logarzo try to achieve what no other Australian team has done before, win the World Cup. Success in this tournament will not solely be defined by the results on the pitch, rather, the long-term impact it has on the next generation of female players in Australia will be its lasting legacy.

In June, 2020, Australia-New Zealand was announced as the winning bid to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup, beating Columbia. According to FIFA, the 2019 World Cup held in France had more than one billion television viewers. The 2023 tournament is set to be the biggest ever women’s sporting event, having expanded from 24 teams to 32.

Grassroots Level: Football West

As the sole governing body for football (soccer) in Western Australia, Football West represents more than 230,000 players in all levels of competition. It’s looking to use the tournament to drive participation among women at a grassroots level.

The State Government demonstrated its commitment to football with the recent announcement of a $35 million investment into Perth Rectangular Stadium to upgrade some of the ageing facilities ahead of the World Cup. That same day, construction began on the $32.5 million State Football Centre. The new facility is being built in Queens Park in the City of Canning and is set for completion in 2023, in time for it to be used as a training facility for the World Cup.

As a host city for the tournament, Perth will showcase some of the biggest stars in women’s football for several matches. Manager of Female Football and Advocacy at Football West, Sarah Du Plessis says the impact the tournament will have on women’s football cannot be underestimated.

“Having Perth be a host city [for the tournament] is a fantastic achievement,” says Du Plessis.

“Just the visibility of the game that brings, the content from a media perspective and the influence it’s going to have on the game is incredible.”

She believes the next two years will be crucial for Football West as it builds up to the tournament, allowing them to look at football in Western Australia and identify areas in need of improvement.

“So really being able to highlight the importance and investment that’s required in our community facilities,” she says.

“That and our female development pathway are key and two of the greatest areas that we’re going to see benefit from the Women’s World Cup coming here.”

Legacy 23 is Football Australia’s plan to deliver lasting benefits from hosting the World Cup. Infographic: Football Australia.

A strong grassroots level provides the foundation for sport to thrive. Without it, potential stars of the future would not reach their full potential. Before she made her mark on the world stage, Matilda’s striker Sam Kerr was developed right here in Western Australia.

As the captain of the Matildas, Kerr is one of the most high-profile female figures in Australian sport. Last year she completed a multimillion-dollar move to Chelsea in the English Women’s Super League, furthering boosting her international profile.

Two years out from the tournament, the Matildas are currently ranked 11th in the World, having previously been as high as fourth. In 2019, Football Federation Australia and Professional Footballers Australia struck a historic collective bargaining agreement which closed the pay gap between Australia’s national teams, the Socceroos and the Matildas.

The deal saw both teams agree to receive the same share of commercial revenue – for example advertising – and players were now equally valued. The top female players received a major boost to their salary, rising to $100,000. The Matildas also received identical training conditions and other entitlements which were only previously afforded to the Socceroos. As a result, Australia joined New Zealand and Norway in closing football’s gender pay gap.

Natasha Rigby is entering her second season as captain of the Perth Glory Photo: Manny Tamayo.

A-League Women: Natasha Rigby

At a domestic level, however, the A-League Women’s competition is still lagging behind its competitors.

Natasha Rigby is the current captain of Perth Glory’s women’s team. She says the launch of AFLW raised the bar for women’s sports in Australia and left the other leagues playing catch up.

“So, after that, the PFA, which is the Players Federation, established this collective bargaining agreement, which meant that players were paid a minimum wage, which we didn’t even have before.”

“When that came in, you saw everything kind of increased, the facilities were better, our medical treatment was better, we had more coaching staff.

“So that was amazing because that saw everyone’s wage jump massively.”

Rigby says women’s football is heading in the right direction but there still not there yet.

“It would be amazing to be able to give women the opportunity to not have to work full-time,” she says.

 “The thing about the A-League is, it’s either women that are juggling full-time jobs with playing full-time when the season comes around, or you have a lot of university students and younger girls who are still at home and can afford to be able to play on minimum wage.

“I don’t think the product will actually get better until someone invests in that, because then women can actually start to dedicate their entire lives to improving the product itself.

“It will be more enjoyable to watch and so it’s just like a cycle. I think it just takes a little bit of faith and investment into it, to then be able to move forward to where it needs to be.”

Born in the coastal town of Margaret River, Rigby’s greatest inspiration didn’t come from the football pitch but rather the ocean. She says her biggest role model growing up was surfer Layne Beachley. “At the time surfing was really creating role models for their women,” she says.

Rigby says she has noticed the increasing number of female footballers in the spotlight. “It’s fantastic because when I was growing up, I didn’t even realise there was a Perth Glory team.”

“I had no idea and so you can’t be what you can’t see. The more we can try and create these role models, the more that we can give young girls the opportunity to aspire to those kinds of things.”

She says the Matildas are becoming more and more visible. “It’s amazing to see so many people getting around them like we saw in the Olympics, it was phenomenal to see the amount [of people] that tuned in.”

Community clubs such as South Perth have seen interest in women’s football grow in the past few years. Left to right: Deanne King, Roo Porter, Cassie Paxman. Photo: Lachlan Allen.

South Perth United: A Community Club

 Cassie Paxman plays for South Perth United FC, a club which prides itself on its commitment to women’s football.

She says seeing the Matildas on TV and the success they’re having is massively important.

“For me, I love watching women’s soccer, they play differently from the men. So, to be able to watch those different techniques and tactics and strategies play out on TV, that’s huge.”

“To be able to see someone like Sam Kerr on the Nike adverts, that’s a big deal to me, that drives me to want to keep playing and makes me excited to play and makes me feel like it’s important.”

Defender Roo Porter says it is the supportive environment which separates South Perth from the rest.

“Most other clubs that I’ve been to are struggling a bit for numbers and to get girls to stay in the game. They might come for a season, and then they drift away again.”

“But they clearly seem to be doing something right here that keeps the girls coming back season after season.”

“It’s really supportive, everyone just wants the best for each other and it’s very well organised.”

Paxman says it’s a testament to the culture and team spirit at the club, having gone from 24 players in the ladies team last year to 70 players this year.

“It’s hard with one team to be able to cater to people’s motivations.

“So, once we could offer like a more social side, a development side for people that hadn’t played much before and offer a solid competitive team as well, we picked up a lot of extra players.”

Midfielder Deanne King has played at the club for five years and says the difference between South Perth and other clubs is they took women’s football more seriously.

“They respected us and actually gave us times on pitches and lights,” she says.

“It was really frustrating when I was coming through, I played under 15 girls at [age] 10 because the under 11 boys wouldn’t pass me the ball.

“So it’s just been a constant trend of not feeling like this should be where we belong.

“That now we actually have a place where we’re given the time of day, we’ve got great coaches, great support staff, people that put a lot of time and energy into us and it’s been awesome to watch that grow in the club as well to where we are now.”

Deanne King has seen first-hand how women’s football has grown over the years Video: Lachlan Allen.
Hana Lowry discusses the recent success of the Matildas. Audio: Lachlan Allen.

Rising Star: Hana Lowry

Currently playing for Perth Glory and the Junior Matildas, 18-year-old Hana Lowry is considered one of Australia’s brightest prospects.

Growing up in a family of football lovers, Lowry first started playing at age seven for her local club Cockburn City after following in her brother’s footsteps. “I started off doing ballet, but I just didn’t really enjoy it and then I went down to the pitch with my brother a few times and said, I want to play football.”

Lowry was the only girl on her team but says it was a key part of her development as a player. “I think it was really important playing with the boys for such a long time and I only stopped playing with them until I was about 13,” she says.

She says the extra intensity made her mentally and physically stronger. “The boys were really good to me, but I just had to be a bit quicker in everything I did, so I think that really helped improve my game.”

Off the football pitch, Lowry credits her family for the positive influence they’ve had on her. “I look up to them and want to get as far as I can for them, because of all the sacrifices they’ve made for me,” she says.

As for becoming a role model herself in the future for female players in Australia. “It’s great that younger players can have people to look up to now and I look up to a lot of older players,” she says.

“To think that younger generations coming through could potentially look up to me is something that makes me feel very proud and something that I hope to do one day.”

In the A-League Women’s competition, Lowry was a bright spark in an otherwise poor season for Perth Glory who finished bottom of the table with one draw and 11 losses. The 18-year-old played every available match in her debut season and caught the eye with some impressive performances.

With training underway for the upcoming season, she hopes to build on her performances, help the team move up the table and catch the eye of selectors ahead of the World Cup.

There is reason to be optimistic about the future of women’s football in Australia with the likes of Hana Lowry and Natasha Rigby leading the way and community clubs like South Perth nurturing the next generation of stars.

Sarah Du Plessis says while there is still work to be done, Australian football has a golden future.

 “We have some of the most incredibly talented players, a very passionate community, we have incredible coaches and I think the future is incredibly bright.”

“We’ve continued to produce some fantastic players that are excelling on the biggest stage across the world in English teams and Europe.”

“I would just love to see the Women’s A-League stand up and become a household name and continue to become that league, where we’re drawing players to Australia.”