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Both the Matildas and the W-League can do with all the fans they can get27 September 2017 | Mike Tuckerman
Football fans in Australia are the biggest bandwagon jumpers around. What else can we deduce from the fact that the Matildas drew more than 30,000 fans to their two recent friendlies against Brazil?
There’s no doubt the Matildas are on a hot streak. Fresh from winning the Tournament of Nations in the United States, Alen Stajcic’s battle-hardened team then went on to record back-to-back wins over old foes Brazil in a couple of glamour friendlies on home soil.
It means the Matildas have now beaten Brazil three times in succession, having also delivered As Canarinhas an incredible 6-1 thrashing on the suburban outskirts of Los Angeles. More importantly, though, the Matildas are now starting to receive the mainstream recognition they’ve long deserved.
‘Better late than never’ may as well be the mantra around Australia’s national female football team, and Football Federation Australia would do well to structure some of its marketing around the popularity of the Matildas. It’s no surprise, then, that the Matildas will take on China in two high-profile friendlies in Victoria this November. Big crowds are expected to attend both.
The question is: why has it taken so long?
It’s not just the FFA that has been slow out of the blocks to recognise the talent of the Matildas – it’s also fans. This is a team that has reached the quarter-finals of the last three successive FIFA Women’s World Cups, and won an Asian Cup – in 2010 – long before their male counterparts.
Part of the problem has been visibility. In 2016 the Matildas played just two games in Australia – friendlies in Ballarat and Melbourne – en route to the Summer Olympic Games in Brazil. It’s been something of a pattern: in 2015 they played two games in Sydney, one of which was behind closed doors, while a year earlier they only played two games in Brisbane as well.
But what is also starting to work in favour of women’s football is the level of disenchantment directed towards the men’s game. The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil was a watershed in more ways than one. Not only was the tournament portrayed by many as an unforgiveable waste of public money, less than a year later FIFA also itself found itself embroiled in a widespread and widely damaging corruption scandal.
Combine it with the colossal sums of money being bandied about the men’s game – which now resembles the personal play-thing of the world’s richest one per cent – and there’s never been a better time to jump ship to the women’s game. It also helps that the female version is coming on leaps and bounds in terms of skill, and is largely devoid of the on-field histrionics of the men.
With increased recognition comes greater reward, and the recent Collective Bargaining Agreement signed by both the FFA and the Professional Footballers Australia association is an obvious step in the right direction. It not only guarantees female footballers a much larger minimum wage, but means salaries will increase across the board.
Given the coverage the inaugural AFLW received last year – from the media reports coming out of AFL House, you’d think they invented women’s sport – it’s a wonder FFA hasn’t done more to advertise a W-League now entering its tenth season. To this day, W-League attendances are a fraction of what the A-League generates.
But the landscape is slowly changing, and this season there will be more W-League/A-League double headers than ever. With 19 in total, it gives fans who might otherwise never be exposed to the women’s game the chance to actually watch some female footballers in action. It also helps that tickets to Matildas games are substantially cheaper than tickets to Socceroos fixtures, making the women far more accessible to a broader range of fans than their male counterparts.
Yet perhaps the most significant difference is simply one of perspective. Where once women’s football existed on the margins – forced to fight for the crumbs swept down from the men’s table – increasingly it’s becoming a viable, highly marketable alternative to the men’s game. And that’s a good thing.
What women’s football in Australia needs now is for that momentum to continue. That means bigger crowds at domestic games, better television audiences and on-going support for the Matildas.
Never mind if you’ve only just jumped on the bandwagon. As Sam Kerr and co. have amply demonstrated, it’s one that’s simply too fun to ignore.
matildas, women's football, w-league