What the Matildas’ World Cup heroics mean to our football community.

18 AUGUST 2023

To truly understand the significance of Australia’s semi-final against England is to meet the girls and women the Matildas represent.

Players, coaches, officials and supporters across our football community have lived and breathed every kick of this World Cup campaign and are daring to dream this wonderful adventure could take us one step further into the biggest game of all.

But the legacy of what the Matildas have achieved is already being felt and those cheering them on, both young and old, are hoping to see major steps continue to be taken long after the tournament has finished.

Kylie Maguire, 45, is a mum-of-four who has returned to playing the sport this season.

“My kids love soccer and it’s been such a wonderful thing to share with them, introducing my four boys to the fact there is women’s soccer and it’s a huge thing and it’s quality viewing,” Maguire said.

“These girls work really hard, just like anyone else, and the World Cup is such a fantastic thing for us to have in Australia, especially this year for me coming back into soccer.

“I watched the game the other night with my youngest son and I don’t think he even cares that they’re women. He just wanted them to win and he’s learnt a lot about each individual player.
“Kids grow up with what they’ve been influenced by and if you only let them watch men’s games, they’re not going to be exposed to women’s games.

“That’s why this Women’s World Cup is not only encouraging all sorts of women and girls to join soccer but it’s also teaching the boys that it’s great to have that diversity, that it’s fair and females work just as hard.”

Tracey Dalitz has been heavily involved in the sport locally over the past four decades and has stepped up to co-coach the Division 1 women’s team at Albury United in 2023.

Her nerves are kicking in now with the semi-final so close.

“I haven’t slept well,” Dalitz admitted.

“It’s been chaos the last couple of days because we were meant to be playing on Wednesday night but the association had a meeting and said no games are to be played while the Matildas are playing, which is great, because we don’t want to be doing that anyway.

“We’ve had to postpone that match so we’re just working through a date with Melrose and that might now be played after the official close of the season.

“These are exciting times and it’s great to be coaching when the World Cup is on in Australia, the connection with the team, getting together to watch the games and connecting with friendships you’ve made through football over the years.

“They may not even live in your community but there’s been a lot of messages and a lot of photos put up on social media of when we grew up playing as kids. It’s been huge, it’s just unbelievable.”

Progress has been made but there’s still room for improvement.

“It’s a rarity to have females coaching football,” Dalitz said.

“I don’t know if they haven’t got the right mentors or it’s a lack of confidence but I’m just hopeful the World Cup will inspire more people to coach and that clubs will get behind females and be good mentors.

“I’ve worked really well with Cade Webb this year, I’ve got a lot out of co-coaching with him.

“The way he’s mentored me has helped me tenfold, that’s for sure.”

Sheena Storrie knows first-hand how far the Matildas have come, the vastly experienced AWFA referee having officiated international matches while she held a FIFA badge.

“It’s completely different now to 20-odd years ago,” Storrie said.

“We still had some crowds for the Matildas but certainly not anywhere near what we’re seeing now.

“You might have got 12,000 but sometimes, you wouldn’t get any.

“They were only starting to evolve and even with refereeing, women weren’t up there and the money that’s involved now wasn’t there for us.

“What’s been happening has got to really boost the amount of girls who want to play, seeing that ‘we can do it just as well as the guys can.’

“Even locally, I think it will raise the level and there will be a lot more girls involved now they can see themselves on the screen.

“We’re seeing the opportunities now where you can be involved at the higher and elite levels, so it’s got to be beneficial for girls coming through.”

Storrie played locally before becoming a match official.

“There weren’t many teams and we weren’t taken too seriously then,” she said.

“But you’ve got some good skill level in the girls at the moment, especially the young girls, so it’s only going to advance.

“Like a lot of things, it’s just that middle section we’re missing to come into the senior level but hopefully that’s not far away in the next year or two.

“I’m very excited for the game – and a bit nervous.

“But I guess that’s a good thing; it shows the passion in people and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

“We’re only just a little bit away from holding that cup aloft.”

Jenna Ruhbaum, who plays for Albury United as well as representing AWFA, has loved the World Cup experience.

“It’s been a really good experience for all of Australia,” she said.

“I watched the quarter-final at a friend’s house and the penalty shootout was so intense, my heart was beating.

“The Matildas have been great to watch and very inspiring.

“It’s great for women’s football to see how far they have come.”

Nine-year-old Arabella Court has recently taken up the sport at Wodonga Diamonds.

“Watching the Matildas winning at the World Cup has been so good,” she said.

“The game against France was quite stressful though.”

Lyvia Furaha, 12, was born in DR Congo but now plays at Wodonga Heart and will be cheering on the Matildas against England.

“I’ve enjoyed watching the World Cup very much,” she said.

“I didn’t know who was going to win on Saturday and I was so happy when Australia did.

“My family plays soccer; I’m the only girl though.

“I play every position but my favourite is midfield.”

Maya Davis, who played Division 2 men’s football when her club Melrose didn’t have a Division 1 women’s side, has just entered the World Cup bubble after a spell overseas.

“Every second person I talk to asks me about the Matildas,” Davis, who’s scored 11 goals in Division 1 this year, said

“There are plenty of people who don’t follow soccer or haven’t watched much who are getting around and supporting, which is awesome to see.

“I definitely think it’s great for our league.

“We have struggled for the last few years, and especially through COVID, for numbers and hopefully this generates enough hype and excitement that it encourages young girls to get into soccer.”

Kick-off at Stadium Australia is at 8pm.

Kylie Maguire and Arabella Court, 9 with lyvia Furaha, 12, Sheena Storrie, Tracey Dalitz, Maya Davis with Lucca Humphreys, 5 and Jenna Ruhbaum. PICTURES: by MARK JESSER