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The Matildas Might Have Lost The Game, But They Won Much More

“We may have lost the battle but won the war. The war to make women’s sport seen, heard, respected and beloved.”
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It feels like all of Australia collectively sat on the edge of the chair for the FIFA Women’s World Cup semi finals, believing the Matildas would still bring it home until the final minutes of extra time. While the players are surely feeling some disappointment at the result, the only thing I’m feeling in my heart is proud.

We want to win, we all do. On being praised for her unbelievable goal during the ‘Tillies’ semi final showdown against England, a devastated Sam Kerr replied, “It really doesn’t matter now.”

But later in the press conference, she changed her tune.

“We’re all just really proud of each other and just wish we could’ve got over the line,” she said. “But no matter what happens I wouldn’t want to be on any other team. This is my team, my mates, my best mates, I love them all to death.”

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Kerr pictured after the semi final with England. (Credit: Image: Getty)

This backflip, I think, is what we all feel. The initial sting of a loss hard fought, but an overwhelming feeling that we may have lost the battle but won the war. The war to make women’s sport seen, heard, respected and beloved.

Over the last four weeks, I can’t count the times I’ve welled up hearing a statistic about how much more the country has stood behind our team this year. A few moments come to mind.

During the World Cup, the Matildas competed in sold out stadiums to thousands of adoring fans. It’s a stark contrast to the attendance just under 10 years ago, when the Matildas invited Brazil for two friendly matches on home soil. Ticket sales for the first game were so poor, that Football Federation Australia decided it was too costly to open the stadium for the second one. They played the match to an empty stadium.

Not one single scream of encouragement, let alone the roar of 80,000 people.

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A young fan holds up a sign, ‘You inspire me, Go Matildas!’ (Credit: Image: Getty)

Generations of Matildas have worked tirelessly to fund their passion and put women’s soccer on the map, even producing a controversial nude calendar in 1999 just to raise money in order to compete. They were not given their own name ‘The Matildas’ until the turn of the century, having previously been known as the ‘female Socceroos’. 

It highlights that not only was there no funding, but there was no publicity to garner fans. Teams don’t happen by a happy accident and talent alone, it’s a business. Defender Ellie Carpenter recalled attending a game aged 12, with just 300 people watching. There were no replica jerseys to wear.

Now, Nike have confirmed they’ve sold 13 times the number of jerseys this time around than they did during the 2019 World Cup. We’ve gone from having no jerseys at all, to selling more jerseys in the past three months than any previous tournament. The heart wells with pride.

It’s clear that this generation of Matildas have built on the hard work and legacy of those gone before them, using their talent, strength, inspiration and Aussie spirit to inspire a nation.

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The Matildas have come a very long way as a team. (Credit: Image: Getty)

It’s in this sense that I say the score in the semi final really didn’t matter. Of course, it would have been amazing to cheer Australia on in the final, to mull the potential of a public holiday while basking in the sweet golden light of winning the trophy. But we’ve done so much more.

This is not a flash in the pan win, it is a game-changer.

Now comes the final frontier, financial independence. For years Matildas and A-league players have been forced to work multiple jobs while training to earn money, such was the lack of financial support.

From driving Uber to working at Pizza Hut, the women have been forced to turn to countless roles to keep the dream alive.

Before the kickoff of the 2023 World Cup, the Matildas shared a video, urging more funding for female sport.

“Seven hundred and thirty-six footballers have the honour of representing their countries on the biggest stage this tournament, yet many are still denied the basic right to organise and collectively bargain,” the players say.

“Collective bargaining has allowed us to ensure we now get the same conditions as the Socceroos, with one exception – FIFA will still only offer women one quarter as much prizemoney as men for the same achievement.

“And our sisters in the A-League Women are still pushing to make football a full-time career, so they don’t have to work part-time jobs like we had to.”

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The Matildas are fighting for all teams to have better pay agreements. (Credit: Image: Getty)

This year, FIFA is offering a total of $110 million (approx. AUD $160 million) in prize money to the women’s competition, which is a huge bump to the $30 million offered in 2019. Yet, it remains far below the $440 million (approx. AUD $643 million) given to the men’s World Cup in 2022.

The Matildas have a collective bargaining agreement with Football Australia that states they will get the same minimum percentage of any prizemoney won as the Socceroos. Yet, when the pool of prizemoney is so much less, that will mean a huge difference in the final pay packet.

What the Matildas have achieved over the last four weeks flies in the face of any argument that the women don’t have the same following. Packed stadiums, fans covered in green and gold, and the women achieving a result that is better than any Australian men’s team have ever achieved in a World Cup has to count for something.

It has to usher change. And if it doesn’t, it’s up to the supporters of the Matildas to cry out about it too. They’ve had to raise their voice on their own for too long.

The good news about the level of hysteria and support around the Matildas World Cup campaign this year, is that where the prize money still lags, the ‘buzz’ drives brand deals and ambassadorships for the female players.

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They’ve won our hearts. (Credit: Image: Getty)

We have a long way to go, that must be said. Yet, we need also celebrate the strides made as we push on to the next ones.

This World Cup feels like a turning point for the Matildas, and women’s sport in general. It feels like there is change afoot. The support might be late to the game, but boy are we ready to give it our all.  

One scoreboard at the final tick of extra time will not change that. The tide has turned and there is no stopping that momentum. And that, for me, is the biggest win of all.

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